In the heat of the early afternoon, Drew Merder tries not to smile but fails. The 9-year-old had been warned by his all-state lacrosse coach to keep his feet moving during a shooting drill, but just a few shots in Merder’s feet were already shuffling and his shot starts to sail. So on his next attempt, Trey Arnold runs behind his left shoulder, pressuring Merder to move faster.
Merder’s mom, Kim, sits on a bench nearby. Soccer has been Drew’s sport, but a few of his friends started to play lacrosse. They live in the same neighborhood as Arnold, and they’d all heard the sound of him tossing a ball in the backyard on his rebounding net. When Drew came to Kim wanting to learn lacrosse, she knew who to consult.
“We need to get in touch with Trey. That’s his thing,” Kim said.
Here they were at Sharon Springs, six lessons in with Arnold, Drew still quiet and shy trying to hide a smile as Lambert’s all-time leader in career faceoffs and groundballs chases him.
“There ya go,” Arnold says as Drew’s shot finds the back of the net. “In a game, you can’t stop running or they’re going to hit you.”
This is Arnold, the entrepreneur. The rising senior started his own summer business last year coaching younger players who want to be a faceoff specialist calling it Win At The X. He has a Twitter account (@WinAtTheX) and a website where customers can schedule one-hour sessions for $25.
Arnold has the résumé to impress potential customers: three-year varsity starter who’s played in two state championships; two-time all-area and all-county selection; program career leader in faceoff wins and groundballs; verbal commitment to Robert Morris University, a Division I program in Pittsburgh.
Business has been good for Arnold this summer. Most days he’s booked from 9 to 11 a.m., and then again from 2 to 5 p.m.
“It’s definitely boomed in the last few weeks,” Arnold said, “and I’ve been really hectic with the schedule.”
The idea to start the business came out of Arnold’s own lacrosse genesis story. He, like Merder, had once been a soccer player, and it turned out his coach in fifth grade was a lacrosse referee at the time. “Come try this,” the coach said one day at practice, and he pulled out two lacrosse sticks from his car.
“Next thing you know I’m in the parking lot throwing and catching with him,” Arnold said. “A year later, I quit soccer and was playing lacrosse for him.”
In the seventh grade, Arnold started playing midfield. Each line needed someone to take the faceoff. Arnold casually volunteered. By the summer going into ninth grade, Arnold started to dominate the faceoff on a travel team with older players.
“I was like, ‘I can do this,’” Arnold said. “And I just got better after every summer tournament.”
When Arnold went looking for private instruction for faceoff specialists, the best he could find was The Faceoff Academy, a company led by Major League Lacrosse veterans. The Faceoff Academy offered all-day sessions of premium instruction, but they only came to Georgia once or twice a year and for only a couple days at a time. Then they were off to another state.
“I just figured if I learned from them I could reteach what they teach to my [students],” Arnold said. “I just wanted to help give back to the community.”
So Arnold keeps Merder going during his session. Merder shoots from right in front of the net, then takes passes from Arnold and shoots. He practices angled shots from the right and left, running shots from both sides. Arnold peppers him with equal parts praise (“That’s what I’m talking about!”) and instruction (That’s OK, keep your head down”).
Arnold’s next client is already waiting on the sideline as he wraps up Merder’s session with a light catch-and-throw, another packed day. After Arnold’s morning sessions, he takes an hour break before going to varsity practice with the Lambert lacrosse team from noon to 1:30 p.m. After his afternoon sessions end at 5 p.m., Arnold either helps coach the Longhorns’ Atlanta Rage youth program or goes through another varsity practice. If he has extra free time, he might text Lambert teammates Johnny DiVirgilio, Darron You and Trent Bruno to see if they want to get some work in.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Arnold said.
All the training and practices have made the summer go by fast for Arnold. In a few days, he’ll go with Lambert’s varsity team to New York to play in the National Lacrosse Invitational against some of the best teams in the country. It won’t be long, he knows, until his senior season will be here, one last chance to win the state title that’s eluded him.
“I know it’s state [championship] or bust this year,” Arnold said, “but we have the perfect roster for it.”