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Denver's Casey Wilson went from no offers out of high school to a starring role with the Pios.

Rock-Solid Casey Wilson an Unheralded Key to Denver's Success

May 17, 2024
Patrick Stevens
Marc Piscotty

Three or four weeks was all it took for Casey Wilson’s whirlwind recruitment to progress from initial contact to showing up at Denver.

The time it took the box lacrosse attackman to get moved to defensive midfield? More like three or four months after starting practice with the Pioneers.

And as for becoming a member of Canada’s 2023 World Lacrosse World Championship team and a major difference-maker for Denver’s defense? Far less than three years.

Wilson’s two goals and one assist in the fifth-seeded Pioneers’ 16-11 defeat of Michigan in Saturday’s NCAA tournament first-round game were a reminder of the skillset that got him a belated start in college in the first place. Yet he did plenty of other things to illustrate how he’s quietly become one of the most valuable players on Denver’s roster as a junior.

“When you have a d-middie that can cover, that you can trust on a variety of different matchups, that just allows you not to worry as much, it allows you not to move as much,” Pioneers coach Matt Brown said. “It allows you to be more positional. Casey’s been that for us, and he’s been a rock down there.”

Wilson wasn’t committed to a college going into his senior year at Claremont Secondary School in Victoria, British Columbia. It was unfortunate timing, since the pandemic shut down much of the world that March.

So rather than play lacrosse in the states, he went to the University of Victoria for a year. While his brother, Max, who played collegiately at NJIT and is now a defenseman with the National Lacrosse League’s Halifax Thunderbirds, kept him motivated and pushed him to stay sharp for the 2021 box season, Casey wasn’t sure there was a path to Division I lacrosse available to him.

“It was something that I definitely put on the back burner, and I thought my window had closed,” Wilson said. “Definitely out of high school, I did all the recruiting stuff and things just didn’t pan out the way I wanted them to with the schools I was looking at. Ultimately, they didn’t end up wanting me to go there.”

The lacrosse world can be remarkably small, though, and it seems like the indoor world is even smaller. Brown and Chris McKay, one of Wilson’s coaches at Claremont, were teammates with the Arizona Sting in 2005-06.

And after Wilson had a stellar season in B.C.’s junior box league, McKay called Brown in late July raving about his former player’s athleticism. While Brown was happy to take his old friend’s word, McKay also reached out to Wilson with a text floating the possibility of talking with the Pioneers’ staff.

“I remember reading that and thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, of course I have interest in Denver, what a great program and what a great school,’” Wilson said. “I got on a Zoom call with the coaches, and we came to an agreement, and about a month later, I was on campus sight unseen.”

This guy is going to be playing lacrosse for a long, long, long time.

Denver HC Matt Brown on Casey Wilson

Wilson spent his first fall at Denver running on the third midfield, but the way he moved stood out to the Pioneers’ staff. Soon after the team returned in January, they asked if Wilson would give defensive midfield a try.

“They sold it to him as, ‘We’re just going to get some film on you, and it’ll help us in the tryout process so the coaches can see you play for the Canadian team,’” said midfielder Jack Tortolani, one of Wilson’s roommates. “I don’t think anybody thought much of it. Before you know it, he just kind of flips. I think it was a pretty seamless fit, mostly due to his athletic ability. Casey’s kind of a freak athlete with a combination of strength and speed that’s hard to find, and I think it’s good for a short-stick defensive midfielder, especially. Since then, he’s just kind of run with it.”

Wilson acknowledges there was at least a brief adjustment period. There were times he was beaten as he was trying to figure out the defensive scheme. He didn’t play much until the fourth game of his freshman season, when he started on the faceoff wing against Jacksonville.

His role only grew from there. He earned a place on Canada’s roster for the U21 world championship in Ireland in 2022. Last year, he was one of three defensive midfielders picked for the Canadian senior team team coached by Brown.

“It’s pretty spectacular getting to meet all of those great players that I’ve been fortunate to play with at the world games and the U21 world games,” Wilson said. “There’s a bunch of great Canadian college players everywhere spread out throughout the U.S., and throughout the pro leagues. It’s a surreal feeling in the moment. I remember being there thinking, ‘What put me here and why am I here?’ But at the end of the day, I put in a lot of hard work and I deserved to be there.”

Wilson still gets his offensive fix playing box lacrosse in the summer, but he’s shown a penchant for creating headaches for opponents in transition at Denver. He had a goal and an assist against Michigan as the Pioneers bolted to a 9-1 lead, and then he deposited a goal early in the fourth quarter to help Denver pull away to earn its first NCAA tournament victory since 2018.

It was the second multi-goal game of Wilson’s college career.

“I’ve been struggling offensively a little bit the latter half of the season here,” Wilson said. “In practice the last couple weeks, I’ve been starting to see the ball fall in the back of the net again, and it was definitely nice to see that translate into a game. As big a game as it was for the program and it being the playoffs, it definitely came at the right time when we needed it.”

The Pioneers (12-3) will meet fourth-seeded Syracuse (12-5) on Sunday in Towson, Md., and are seeking their first semifinal appearance in seven years. Even with Denver’s defensive bona fides, chances are its encounter with the Orange will see both teams push into double figures.

Tortolani pointed out games of this magnitude are rarely won solely on simple stops or 6-on-6 scores. Every team needs a few options who can thrive in some chaos, and with Wilson, Denver has one of the best at doing so in Division I.

“He’s just a tremendous talent, a phenomenal athlete and an absolute pro when it comes to how he approaches this whole thing,” Brown said. “This guy is going to be playing lacrosse for a long, long, long time.”