A pair of Delaware Hayes High School products have formed a 1-2 punch for the Otterbein University men’s lacrosse team.
Junior midfielder Joe Sanfillipo and sophomore defensive midfielder Justin McKee both earned all-conference honors this spring for the Cardinals, who finished 8-8 overall and 5-3 (tied for fourth) in the Ohio Athletic Conference.
Despite being hampered by injuries, Sanfillipo ranked third in the OAC in assists (30) and eighth in points (57) and had 28 ground balls. He was named first-team all-OAC for the second season in a row and was selected honorable mention all-West Region by the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association.
“I had a strained quadriceps and a sprained ankle, but I played through the pain and had a pretty good season,” said Sanfillipo, who also has earned three letters for the Otterbein football team as a punter and kicker. “I expect us to have a very good season next year because we were a pretty young team.”
Sanfillipo will be a third-year captain for the Cardinals next spring.
“The seniors took me under their wings when I was a freshman, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do,” he said. “We’re a very close team. I think we have a good chance of winning our conference tournament and earning an automatic NCAA (Division III tournament) bid, but we’ve really got to push it hard from now until then.”
McKee, who was selected second-team all-OAC, led the Cardinals with 68 ground balls, which ranked eighth in the conference. He also caused 16 turnovers and chipped in four goals and three assists.
“I think I have improved so much since I got here,” McKee said. “I would play any position to help this team and I like my role. I’ve put in a lot of hard work and I’m just determined to help us and to do whatever I can. We were close last year and could’ve had a much better record with a goal here and a goal there. I think the young guys gained experience and we’re ready to break out next season.”
The Cardinals will be entering their 10th season as a program next spring.
“We’ve been a program for nine seasons, and the OAC has sanctioned the sport for five years,” coach Colin Hartnett said. “We’ve won two conference titles and reached the NCAA tournament in 2013, ’14 and ’15. Next year will be a really important season for us because we’ll have more upperclassmen.”
The two former Pacers should play a big role in that. Sanfillipo ranks in the top-five in program history in assists (85) and points (144).
“Joe’s dad is an Otterbein alum, and I think that played a role in him coming here,” Hartnett said. “We’re fortunate to have him because he’s a great athlete and great leader and he just picks up on things so fast. It’s like he’s another coach out there. That’s his best attribute, understanding the X’s and O’s.
“The funny thing is that when we were keeping an eye on (Sanfillipo while recruiting), we saw Justin and were amazed with his speed. He’s the fastest player we’ve had in the program and he’s got great endurance. He’s a little undersized, but he’s a tremendous one-on-one defender. He went over 100 career ground balls this year as a short-stick midfielder. We nearly have to drag him off the field to give him a break during games.”
Sanfillipo and McKee are close friends off the field but are competitive with one another during practices, according to Hartnett.
“They are so competitive,” Hartnett said. “Both are great workers and exceptional students and they give us energy in every practice and others follow their lead. In a lot of ways, we go as Joe goes because he plays both sides of the ball and is our physical and emotional leader. He may go down as the top player we’ve had in the program by the end of next season.
“Justin is such a hard worker and I think he’s only going to get better and better. I don’t know if anybody outworks him.”
Even Sanfillipo puts the “hardest worker” tag on McKee.
“Justin is an absolute workhorse,” Sanfillipo said.
“He’s athletic and elusive and does all those things that aren’t in the box scores. He gets to the ground balls and clears. He gets things started off faceoffs and we’re able to keep gaining possessions. I’d say he’s the quiet MVP of the team, but he is also the hardest worker.”
Otterbein had 13 central Ohio players on its roster. Among them were junior defender Adam Grumman of Pickerington North and junior faceoff specialist/midfielder Mike Roman of Worthington Kilbourne. Both made second-team all-conference.