Alone at the Top: Manasquan’s Canyon Birch becomes the Shore Conference’s all-time leading scorer
HOLMDEL – Many great lacrosse players have come through the Shore Conference and put up impressive numbers, but nobody has done it quite like Canyon Birch.
The Manasquan senior has had an unprecedented career thus far, and just five games into the season has reached the top of the Shore’s all-time scoring list. The offensive record book is quickly becoming his autobiography.
Birch scored seven goals and added two assists during a 17-3 win over St. John Vianney on Wednesday to record his 432nd point and pass Christian Brothers Academy legend Tommy Duerr as the Shore Conference’s all-time points leader. At the same time, Birch became just the second player in New Jersey history to score 300 career goals.
“It’s just awesome for my family and I to finally reach that goal, especially with Tommy Duerr being a close family friend for so many years,” Birch said. “It’s something we’ve always talked about and he’s always worked with me to help me achieve that. Coming into high school he told me he wanted me to be the one to break his record, and I took that as motivation to work even harder.”
“Tommy was an incredible high school player and one of the best I’ve ever seen, and that number is an astronomical number,” said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham, who was a standout defenseman at CBA and played two years with Duerr. “It takes somebody that’s really special to come along and be able to climb that hill, and Canyon certainly fits the bill.”
Birch entered Wednesday needing four goals to reach 300 and nine points to surpass Duerr as the Shore’s all-time leading scorer. The Warriors, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on the No. 8 Lancers thanks to a pair of goals by senior attackman Ryan Anderson. The lead quickly grew to 5-0 as Birch notched a natural hat trick with goals at 9:32, 9:18 and 8:04.
Just 31 seconds into the second quarter, Birch joined former A.L. Johnson icon Matt Poskay as the only players in New Jersey history to score 300 goals. He was now also five points away from 432.
After a goal by Mike Cielecki, Birch struck again for his fifth goal of the game and with 40 seconds left in the half set up Casey Mulligan for a goal. Manasquan held a 12-3 lead at halftime and Birch had posted five goals and one assist.
At the 9:25 mark of the third quarter, Birch fed Cielecki for a goal and shortly after scored off a setup from Tyler Callahan to tie Duerr with 431 career points. Then, with 4:57 left in the third quarter, Birch cut across the middle of the field and rifled a left-handed shot into the back of the net. He reached into the goal and scooped up the ball, another keepsake from a historic career.
“I couldn’t have done it without the teammates I have,” Birch said. “The last four years they have been tremendous; the offense, the defense. So much space is created because we have so many offensive threats. You can’t really key on one person, so it makes my job easier.”
While Birch gets the headline most days, the Warriors aren’t one of the best teams in New Jersey just because of him. Jack Fabean may be the best defensemen in all of New Jersey. Mike Page is a game-changing long-stick midfielder. James Pendergist is a do-it-all ace in the midfield whose impact stretches far beyond the score sheet. Mike LaPoint is an outstanding goalie who rises to the occasion when the stakes are highest. There’s also Ryan Anderson, another 100-point attackman, plus fast-rising sophomore Casey Mulligan joining Birch on the attack line. Mike Cielecki and Mike Farinacci can also find the back of the net in reserve roles. Matt Franzoni, Riley Callahan, Casey Campbell and Robert Pendergist give the Warriors very good depth in the midfield and Tommy Shaughnessy, Mike Farrell, Tyler Callahan and Chris Farinacci help comprise a suffocating defense.
Even with all the talented players the Warriors possess, opposing teams continue trying to find ways to slow Birch down. Gameplans are centered around him and he almost always draws a double-team assignment. Through all that, he’s still found a way to produce points at a record-setting pace.
“Almost every team we see, at least for the last two years, is designing their defensive gameplan around him,” Cunningham said. “We’ve seen pretty much everything get thrown at us and he’s seen pretty much everything he can on the field. He continues to handle the pressure and, not only score, but he’s able to find the open guy on the field and create. He has very good players around him but he’s still the guy who makes the offense go. He’s the focal point, and you have to be that guy. You have to be transcendent and he does that.”
Birch’s 303 goals and counting are a huge number, but his 129 assists are substantial as well. He takes great pride in being more than just a goal-scorer.
“My biggest fear is being one-dimensional,” Birch said. “I came into high school and freshman year didn’t have as many assists as I would have liked, so going into my sophomore year I worked on being more of a feeder and last year I worked really hard to be that way. I want to be a two-way player, not just a player who goes to the goal. It definitely makes it harder for a defenseman to cover someone who can score a goal or get an assist.”
Birch holds the Shore Conference single-season records for goals (123) and points (175) and now also has the career records for goals (303 and counting) and points (432 and counting). His 175 points last season were also a New Jersey single-season record. The only player now left to pass is Poskay, a living legend who following high school was a two-time All-American at the University of Virginia, played in Major League Lacrosse and was the 2010 MVP and is currently the head coach at Montclair State University.
Birch needs 37 points to break Poskay’s state record of 468 points and needs 60 goals to break his state record of 362. At his current rate, there’s little doubt he reaches both milestones sooner than later.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.