Greatness can be defined in many ways, and in the realm of athletics, production and impact are at the very top of the list.

Canyon Birch produced better than any high school lacrosse player in New Jersey history over the course of his career, and his impact on Manasquan’s program, the Shore Conference and the entire state will be felt for years to come. In his senior season, Birch concluded one of the best careers in state history with another historic season, and for that, he was the obvious choice to once again be selected as the Shore Sports Network Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year.

In scoring a state-leading 118 goals and adding 51 assists, Birch posted an incredible 169 points that stand as the second-highest single season total in state history, trailing only the 175 points he posted as a junior. The 2019 season was set up to be a coronation of Birch as the all-time leading scorer in both the Shore Conference and New Jersey, and he did not disappoint. He passed a pair of legends – Christian Brothers Academy’s Tommy Duerr and A.L. Johnson’s Matt Poskay – to become the most prolific offensive player the Garden State has ever seen with 392 goals and 166 assists for a mind-bending 558 points.

Birch has been honest about how chasing the records of Duerr and Poskay were goals of his when he entered high school, but trying to get him to talk about his own personal success was mostly futile. Instead, he praised his teammates and spoke about what he valued most: a Manasquan victory.

Manasquan did a lot of winning over the past four years, securing four division titles, winning three straight Shore Conference Tournament championships and claiming three NJSIAA state sectional titles, including the past two South Group 1 crowns. This season, the Warriors went 21-1 with division, conference and state sectional championships to their credit. The only blemish this season was a 7-6 loss to eventual Tournament of Champions winner Mountain Lakes in the Group 1 state final. Manasquan will finish the season as a top-five team in New Jersey, a distinction the Warriors certainly earned.

The major storyline for much of the season was Birch’s pursuit of conference and state scoring records. The buildup began in the preseason as entered the year with 274 goals, which was tied for the most in Shore Conference history with former Southern Regional attackman Dylan Jinks. In the Warriors’ season-opening 18-3 win over Ocean, Birch scored eight goals and added three assists to become the Shore Conference’s all-time leading goal-scorer and also reach 400 career points.

Four games later, Birch scored seven goals and added two assists to pass Duerr as the conference’s all-time leading scorer with 432 points and counting.

“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 at the time. “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.”

With both Shore Conference records now his, the attention turned to Poskay, the legendary A.L. Johnson midfielder who set single-season goals (129) and career goals (362) and points (468) records during his illustrious high school career. Poskay went on to star at the University of Virginia where he led the Cavaliers to two NCAA championships, and later starred in Major League Lacrosse where he was the league MVP.

Five games after passing Duerr’s conference points mark, Birch eclipsed Poskay’s state points record by scoring five goals and adding two assists in a dominant 13-2 victory over rival Rumson-Fair Haven to give him 474 career points. It took Birch five more games to break Poskay’s career goals record, and he did so with seven goals in an 18-4 victory over Howell in the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament.

Birch would go on to tally three goals and two assists in a 14-4 win over Rumson in the SCT semifinals and bank five goals and two assists to lead Manasquan to a 12-7 victory over CBA for the Warriors third straight SCT championship.

In five state tournament games, Birch totaled 21 goals and 10 assists as the Warriors defeated Dayton, Madison, Shore Regional and finally Glen Ridge to claim the South Group 1 state sectional title. In the Group 1 final against Mountain Lakes, Birch concluded his career with a three-goal, one-assist performance.

Birch is an offensive force because of the number of ways he can create. He shoots and passes with equal effectiveness both right- and left-handed, can score from anywhere inside the offensive zone and can beat defenders with power and quickness. His shot is lethal and his passing ability is exceptional.

“Canyon has crazy natural instincts,” said Manasquan senior defenseman Jack Fabean. “He reads your body language while he’s dodging and has the ability to analyze what’s happening all over the field.”

“There are some shots even in practice where you know exactly where he’s going to put it and you just can’t get there,” said Manasquan senior goalie Mike LaPoint. “I don’t know, it’s something I still can’t figure out.”

Off the field, Birch always put in the work, physically and mentally, to make sure he was constantly improving.

“Very few people know how much time he spends outside of team activities, how much time he spends watching lacrosse, on analytics,” Fabean said. “He’ll watch highlights of whoever he’s going against until he goes to bed. His passion for the game is insane. I’ve never met anyone like that, and that’s what makes him such a great player.”

While some onlookers often tried to poke holes in the accomplishments of Birch and Manasquan based on their schedule, Birch and his teammates had the respect of their opponents.

“Canyon Birch is one of the best players in the country, not just the state, and we knew no matter what it’d be a tough game against Manasquan,” said Mountain Lakes midfielder Drew Brennfleck, who is signed to the University of Virginia. “I played with him last summer and, against any competition, he can score against everyone. People knock him for that (competition Manasquan plays) but everything he’s done he worked hard for and he’s earned every bit of it. He had a great career.”

The next stop for Birch is State College, Pennsylvania. Birch committed to Penn State University in February and this fall will join a program on the rise. The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 1 in the nation for much of the season and reached the NCAA Final Four for the first time in program history. They return much of their starting offense and will add Birch to the mix. Before that, he’ll play in the Shore Conference Lacrosse Coaches Association senior all-star game on June 13 and then take part in the prestigious Under Armour All-America game on June 29 at Johns Hopkins’ University’s historic Homewood Field.

Records are made to be broken, and Birch certainly proved that in chasing down Poskay and his astronomical state marks. One day, a player may come along and surpass Birch’s numbers, but right now that’s hard to imagine.

Canyon Birch’s legacy is firmly intact. He’s one of the greatest to ever step on the field in New Jersey.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

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