Knighthawks sign all three first-round picks
The Rochester Knighthawks announced that they have signed first-round picks Jake Withers, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell to one-year deals.
The Ohio State University (OSU) standouts were selected second, fifth and sixth overall, respectively, in the 2017 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft.
“Ever since I was a kid playing lacrosse, it’s been my goal to reach the highest level,” said Withers. “So it’s very exciting to sign a pro contract, especially with such a world-class organization.”
This summer, Withers excelled with the Mann Cup champion Peterborough Lakers, playing under Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. The 23-year-old played in 12 regular season games and posted an astounding .779 faceoff winning percentage. His success continued in the Major Series Lacrosse (MSL) playoffs as he won .722 percent of his draws.
“Jake is really good at the faceoff dot, which will allow our ‘O’ to have a few more possessions,” said Hasen. “He plays hard in the defensive zone and fits very well in our team system. He’ll contribute to making our overall team game much better on both sides of the floor.”
Before heading home to Peterborough, Ontario to play for the Lakers, Withers was helping the Ohio State Buckeyes reach the Division I Men’s Lacrosse National Championship Game. In his senior season, he ranked fourth in the NCAA and first in the Big Ten in faceoff winning percentage (.647) and was seventh nationally in ground balls per game (7.6). For his efforts, the Ohio State captain was named a Second Team All-American, and Big Ten Specialist of the Year for the second straight season.
At the draft, Withers was reunited with two of his OSU teammates, with Fannell and Austin Shanks also going to Rochester. It was an historic occasion as it marked the first time in National Lacrosse League history that three players from the same university went to the same team in the opening round.
Withers’ college roommate, Austin Shanks, will follow him to training camp after being selected with the fifth overall pick. This week, Shanks made it official by signing with the Knighthawks.
“Signing a pro contract gets me one step closer to my lifelong goal of playing in the NLL,” he said. “Being able to sign with the Rochester Knighthawks, an organization with a rich tradition and a winning culture, makes it even sweeter.”
The 23-year-old Shanks is coming off a collegiate season in which he finished second in the nation with nine man-up goals, as part of a 15-goal, four-assist senior campaign. In two seasons in Columbus, he posted 83 goals and 40 assists in 60 games. After wrapping up the season, Shanks joined the the Brooklin Redmen and recorded career highs in goals (23) and points (47). In parts of four seasons in Major Series Lacrosse (MSL), the forward notched 55 goals and 50 assists in 31 games.
At the Junior “A” level, the Whitby, Ontario native capped off his outstanding career by leading the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) with 107 points en route to MVP and most outstanding player honors in 2015. Shanks finished his career in Whitby with 129 goals and 140 assists in 72 regular season games.
“Austin is an elite scorer and he has proven that at every level,” said Knighthawks head scout Stuart Brown. “He is also unique in that he doesn’t need the ball in his stick all of the time to be effective and contribute offensively. He finds the open space and gets there at the right time. He’s got great touch around the net and can mix up his shooting.”
Fannell will join Withers and Shanks at training camp after being chosen sixth overall. In his final season at Ohio State, Fannell led the Buckeyes in assists (30) and points (66), while finishing second in goals (36). His point and assist totals were tied for 10th best in single-season program history. He was also named an Honorable Mention All-American and First Team All-Big Ten.
Moving from college to the pros with two of his Ohio State teammates made draft night that much more memorable.
“It’s a great feeling to have two of my best friends coming to the same team,” said Fannell. “I couldn’t be happier and more excited to be able to prove myself alongside my teammates this year.”
Fannell brings size and athleticism to the Knighthawks’ roster. Like in the field game, he utilizes his 6-1, 220-pound frame to his advantage. Not only can he set hard picks, but he also possesses a knack for scoring. During the past two seasons with the Oakville Rock, the 23-year-old scored 12 goals and added 16 assists in 15 MSL games.
“We believe he is a great fit for our left side,” said Knighthawks VP of Player Personnel Jody Gage. “We were looking for a player who could create space for Cody (Jamieson) and Kyle (Jackson) and also for himself. He is a guy who doesn’t need the ball in his stick (to be successful). He has great size and we love his compete level.”