Do you remember the first time you met a pro lacrosse player? If you’re from the East Coast maybe you went to an MLL game and got an autograph. Was it at a camp run by pros? Was it a Powell brother?
Pro players showing up in camper vans is probably not what you envision when you hear they’re coming to your town for a skills clinic. However, CLNC Sports (pronounced “clinic”) believes that this is exactly the formula that’s needed for lacrosse to grow in new areas of the country. This past April, PLL players Nick Ossello and Brent Adams planned a road trip through Oregon that would stop in Hood River, Hermiston, Bend, Eugene, Portland, and wherever the road took them.
We at Powell Lacrosse could tell this was the kind of trip we wanted to be a part of. Our motto is “explore the field” and CLNC Sports did just that by bringing their lacrosse knowledge to fields all over Oregon to teach the next generation of stars. It was our pleasure to help fuel their trip and now tell the story of their journey along the Oregon lacrosse trail.
CLNC Sports has come a long way from what started as a few phone calls in the Fall of 2018 trying to figure out the best way to bring high level coaching to areas that need it.
“For us right now, the biggest word that comes to mind is momentum,” Nick Ossello said looking back on the Oregon trip and how far the company has come. Nick is one of the founders of CLNC Sports and a defensive midfielder for the Redwoods who might not make flashy plays on the field, but has a loud presence on lacrosse social media.
“I got a call from Nick about this venture where they were going to outfit a camper van, drive around to emerging lacrosse communities, coach lacrosse, and bring them a product that they’ve never seen before,” said Brent Adams, another founder of CLNC Sports who is a free wheeling two-way midfielder for the Atlas. “It was a no brainer that I’d love to be involved.”
They also brought on board Redwoods attackman Matt Kavanagh to coach and former Notre Dame midfielder Connor McCollough to help run the business, while calling upon their large network of coaches and pro players to help out wherever they travel to. They have brought their clinics to Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Louisiana, Florida, Montana, California, Washington, and Oregon with plans to go to any communities that will have them.
By travelling in vans they’re able to cut down on the cost of their clinics and allow more kids to be able to attend. The nomad lifestyle of living on the road is something they all enjoy and has brought them to some of the most beautiful places in the United States. In between clinics, they spend the night at national forests or campsites to pitch ideas by the campfire.
They chose to make their trip through Oregon because it’s a growing lacrosse hotbed with some programs producing D1 talent, but the majority of the state is still very new to the game. Ryan Powell lived in Oregon for over a decade and helped grow the community through his program Rhino Lacrosse. Those roots are still there, but coaching from pros continues to be a rarity.
As April came around, they assembled their crew. Brent would drive the CLNC Sports van co-piloted by his dog Zion, Connor rode in his EarthRoamer along with his dog Jam, and Nick would grind it out in his Subaru. They set off on the road to leave Oregon lacrosse a little better than they found it.
The first stop of their trip brought them to Hood River. With scenic rolling hills surrounding them as they put on their first clinic, they found that the players here were starving for lacrosse knowledge in an area where it is competing with world class mountain biking, kayaking, and other outdoor sports.
“It’s almost like a stoked factor.” said Nick. “That’s what I heard a hundred times in Hood River is that everybody’s just stoked about everything. The local coaches, Tyler Reitz and Eric Moody, are so passionate and so excited about lacrosse that they’re matching the energy we put out. They’re right on the cusp of unlocking phase 2 of lacrosse, which goes beyond stick skills and kind of goes more to the IQ side.”
From the little things like how to hold the stick properly, advanced lessons on shooting, or proper footwork, they try to make sure every kid walks away from one of their clinics with a new skill. The players work hard and then earn some fun drills at the end.
“I’m going to treat each player as if they want to make it to the PLL,” said Brent. “We’d be doing them a disservice if we treated them like they were just doing it as an after school activity that their mom signed them up for. I want to instill the sense of passion and love for this game that we have. That love is the reason that we started CLNC.”
The clinics are structured like a college or professional practice and are just as much for the local coaches as the players. The goal is to create a long term relationship with the coaches so that Nick and Brent can continue to share drills and answer any questions they might have.
Nick’s sister Gianna, who played at Duke, lives in Hood River and ran the girls clinic with them.
“She didn’t have the best lacrosse experience in college and left with a bit of a sour taste in her mouth,” Nick said about Gianna. “It was really cool to take on this proud older brother role and say wow she’s not only my little sister, but she’s also a phenomenal lacrosse coach that is making these young women experience lacrosse in a better way than she did and kind of passing the torch down.”
After they finished their clinics, they were able to explore Hood River and take in the natural beauty of the area.
“The couple hikes that we went on were just unbelievable,” Brent said. “There was one that was about 15 minutes away from Nick’s sister’s house and we were actually fortunate enough to see 6 kayakers one after the other sending it over this waterfall. I’ve gone skydiving a number of times and I’ve done bungee jumping, but this looked crazy as hell.”
Nick also managed to separate his shoulder mountain biking, but luckily it would only take a week or two to heal back up and he would still be able to coach.
As the hills began to turn into flatter ground driving towards Hermiston, the CLNC crew wasn’t sure what to expect rolling into a place they didn’t know much about. It would turn out to be one of the most encouraging stops of the entire trip.
At the clinics they were greeted by “some of the nicest people I’ve ever met going to different areas,” said Brent. “We finished coaching and then ended up going to one of the family’s houses where they had a little outdoor barbeque. We watched a couple of lacrosse games and Nick and I were breaking down the different plays just talking IQ with a lot of the kids. You can tell they’re still in the early stages, but there’s a core group of kids, dads, and coaches that love the game.”
Lacrosse is still relatively new to a community like Hermiston where other sports are more popular.
Connor explained that “as you get closer to Portland there’s still a lot of unfamiliarity, but generally speaking they’re a little bit more aware and a little bit more excited about autographs from Nick and Brent. Whereas some of the kids in Hermiston don’t even know if they want Nick’s autograph. They’re like ‘who is this guy?’”
It shouldn’t take too long for that to change as some of the first groups of players that went through the youth programs in Hermiston are getting ready for their senior high school seasons. “Overall Hermiston was somewhere that was very unsuspecting for us to be able to come in and say that we definitely have to come back here for more clinics,” said Brent.
Along with learning more about the lacrosse communities in each city, Brent, Nick, and Connor also made it a goal to find the best/worst dive bars wherever they went. In Hermiston, they achieved their goal when they wandered into the Hermiston Tavern.
“A good dive bar goes along the lines of, does a cloud of cigarette smoke hit you in the face? Or if they have craft beers then it’s not a dive bar,” Brent said. “We went to the windowless Hermiston Tavern and I haven’t had many of these situations where I walk into a bar and within 30 seconds of going to order a drink a guy comes up to us and says ‘hey you guys aren’t from around here are you?’ There’s about 8 people in there and you’ve got the video lottery in the corner. We sat and watched this guy and his buddy Juan play a couple of the best games of pool I’ve ever seen.”
Nick agrees that it “was up there for the divest dive bar you’ve ever seen.”
Going into Bend, morale was high after a great experience in Hermiston as they took in the dramatic changes in landscape driving through Central Oregon. Here they recruited help from other pro players in the area for their clinics.
“In Bend, we had my sister Gianna again, Eli Gobrecht who plays for the Waterdogs, and Kai Iwamato who is from Japan, but lives in Portland now,” said Nick. “We want to show these kids that it’s not just Brent and I. It’s Connor who was my college teammate, Kai who was my teammate on the Outlaws, and Eli who’s in the PLL on a different team, but we’re all great friends. We tell them to drop their high school rivalries because the Bend lacrosse community is small enough to where if you’re at the back of a line and you see someone wearing a different helmet and you don’t know him, just say hello. The worst case scenario is that it leads to a friendly conversation and best case scenario a lifelong friendship.”
They had connected with Bend based Thump Lacrosse before, but after meeting the people behind the program and Thump Coffee Company, Thump quickly became the highlight of Bend.
“They have this beautiful symbiotic relationship of the coffee shop and the club,” said Brent. “Some kids spend a lot of time at the shop, they play for the club, they end up coaching the club, or work for the coffee shop. They even had watch parties for the PLL games outside here at the coffee shop last summer and have created this great community.”
A great clinic led into the unique experience of a coffee tasting or “cupping” with Thump Coffee owner Bobby Grover and the Thump Lacrosse crew. They learned how it’s grown, roasted, made into the final product, and how to drink it the proper way.
“After attending one cupping I’m already acting like I’m an expert even though I only learned like 4 things,” Nick boasted. “We asked Bobby what the best cup of coffee he ever had was and he said he couldn’t even remember what brand it was. He only remembers that it was before a Steelhead fishing trip with friends and that the best cup of coffee is about who you’re with.”
Bobby’s message rings true for what CLNC Sports is trying to accomplish as they go from town to town. The moment, the people, and the emotions you feel are the most important part of an experience whether it is a cup of coffee or a lacrosse clinic.
“Sitting around the campfire and listening to those guys talk about their aspirations of where they want to take the coffee shop as opposed to where they want to take the lacrosse company was inspiring. It was a very motivating midpoint in our journey,” Brent said reflecting on their time in Bend.
Throughout the trip they were adhering to Covid guidelines at each clinic and making sure the experience was as safe as possible for the kids, parents, and themselves. Eugene was where Covid affected the trip the most.
“The Friday before the clinic, Lane County got put on high restrictions, which didn’t limit our ability to run some larger clinics, but it did mess with the high school schedule,” said Nick. “We still had a good turnout for the middle school kids. Eugene is a good example of showing our value. We’re not going to have any minimums for the amount of kids we need to run a clinic. We’re going to show up no matter what. For the kids that did show up I thought it was a fantastic experience.”
They also had the opportunity to walk around the campus of the University of Oregon where the flowers were in full bloom making for a beautiful scene despite the Covid regulations shutting down much of the area.
“Even though the turnout wasn’t that great due to Covid and other reasons getting to know those coaches in the area tees us up for a great partnership with the city moving forward,” said Nick. “I had some really good conversations with coaches about how they’re right on the cusp, the interest is there, and the dedication of the parents really stuck out to me.”
As they drove from Eugene to Portland they stumbled upon another great dive bar to add to the list.
To put it simply, Nick explained that “I got taken to the cleaners by Deaf Mike at a windowless dive bar in Molalla, Oregon. He was an older gentleman who was hard of hearing, but was a great guy who was smiling every time he made a shot. I love the idea of going to a dive bar shooting pool with a total stranger, attempting to get to know him, and ending up with a hell of a story.”
The CLNC crew quickly found that the lacrosse community in Portland is a good reflection of Oregon lacrosse as a whole.
“Portland is similar to a lot of western and midwestern lacrosse communities that are considered ‘hotbeds,’” explained Brent. “There’s a large disparity in talent and resources. You go to one school and they’re all set up and have coaches that know exactly what they’re talking about. On the other end you have programs that are a year or two old and just started picking up the stick.”
As CLNC travels to more areas, they know they will need to have different touchpoints for each level of programs. One of the higher end programs needs isn’t necessarily what a first or second year program needs.
“It was a good end to the trip to be in an area where we could bounce around to 5-6 different programs and get the lay of the land,” said Brent. “Portland definitely needs our attention, but they’ve got a lot of good people at the helm trying to get it to where they all want it to be.”
While in the Portland area they were also able to set up a more relaxed shootaround event in conjunction with the Give & Go Foundation run by fellow pros Adam Ghitelman and Scott Ratliff.
“We said we’d set up for 3 hours, play some music, and just roll the ball out which was really cool because all of the events we’ve done are really structured and right on time,” said Brent. “It was a much different pace where we were looking to get to know some kids, give away some Powell stuff, and do all of the things I remember growing up going to different tournaments out east like shooting on a radar gun and meeting pros.”
As they left Portland, they hit a few more clinics in Lake Oswego and then ended the Oregon trip enjoying the beaches along the coast. Exhausted, enlightened, and motivated from their month-long journey, the CLNC crew went their separate ways to rest and reflect after a successful trip.
At the end of the day, CLNC Sports hopes to create an unforgettable experience for the kids that come to one of their clinics. Being in person in communities like the ones in Oregon will have just as much if not more of an impact than Nick and Brent playing in pro lacrosse games.
“I’ve had more people reach out via text or DM that I haven’t heard from in a while than any other professional lacrosse game I’ve played in,” said Brent. “People are reaching out saying it looks like you’re having an awesome time, you should stop here, or you should make sure to reach out to this coach.”
For Nick, after all of the clinics and the time on the road “it’s really refreshing to take a deep breath and remember why you love the sport in the first place. When you fell in love with the sport it was when you were just a wide eyed kid learning how to pass and catch at Outlaws camp and idolizing Brendan Mundorf. It’s great to have that perspective, especially as it relates to getting out in front of kids and facilitating that experience for them.”
The next steps for CLNC Sports are to keep building relationships with communities and working toward establishing hubs where they can make a bigger impact. This summer they will be in Boise, Idaho for an extended amount of time running skills clinics, but also engaging with the players and coaches as much as possible.
“The mobility will continue to be a mainstay given the business reasons as well as lifestyle reasons,” explained Connor, “but we’re looking ahead to a chapter 2 where in addition to being mobile we’re starting to set up hubs in areas we see an opportunity to be there on a more full time basis. The biggest thing in the years to come is how we scale that authenticity Nick and Brent bring to a small clinic in Hermiston, Oregon everywhere we go as our core group grows.”
CLNC’s trip is the start of something bigger. If one kid at a clinic has the spark lit in his heart that he wants to become a pro lacrosse player then the mission of CLNC has been achieved. That kid could grow up to be like Brent or Nick one day. Playing professionally and then coming back to his community to teach the next generation. That is how lacrosse will grow in Oregon and that is how lacrosse will take the next step as a whole.
As the CLNC Sports van cruises to its next stop, it carries with it the hopes of small lacrosse communities everywhere.
To learn more about CLNC Sports and request a clinic in your town visit their website: https://www.clncsports.com/
CLNC Sports documented their trip on their “From The Road” podcast, which they recorded in the CLNC van. In the background of each podcast you can hear birds chirping, cars driving by, and Brent’s dog Zion getting into mischief. Click the link below to listen to their podcast on Spotify.