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Visit to Belmont Abbey pays off for CMA's Gradwell

Posted: November 19, 2014 4:17 p.m.
Updated: November 21, 2014 1:00 a.m.
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CMA’S RAY GRADWELL SIGNED his National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and lacrosse-playing pursuits at Belmont Abbey College. He was joined for the occasion by his father, Bill Gradwell.

In this era in which virtually any game can be seen on television at almost any time, sports other than the big three of baseball, football and basketball have found their own niche with either longstanding or, new fans.

Ray Blackwell, a senior at the Camden Military Academy, remembers flipping through the dials at his home in Cape May, N.J., as a youngster, watching a lacrosse match and being intrigued with what he saw. The lacrosse bug bit him and soon thereafter, he was getting as much information as he could as to where he could learn and play the sport.

Now, turn the pages of the calendar to the present.

Last Wednesday, Gradwell was joined by his father, Bill Gradwell, on the CMA campus as the younger Gradwell signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and lacrosse-playing pursuits at Belmont Abbey College.

"I saw it on TV and decided that I wanted to play it," Gradwell said of his introduction to lacrosse. "Then, I found a team to play on."

That was some nine years ago and Gradwell has not slowed down since. After playing near his home on the Jersey shore, Gradwell headed south to CMA. He was a member of the Spartans’ 2014 team and was a midfielder, a spot which he will, again, occupy this spring and then, for the following four years, at Belmont Abbey for head coach Christopher Barrett, who said he is excited about bringing someone like Gradwell into his program.

"Ray Gradwell is exactly the type of student-athlete we are looking for here at Belmont Abbey College," said Barrett who played collegiately and later coached at Division II lacrosse power Limestone College.

‘He is a student-athlete of high character and brings a wealth of leadership skills and athleticism to our program. Ray will be a guy that has an immediate positive impact both on and off the field for us here at the Abbey and that is something that is very important to our staff and college community. We are very excited and fortunate to have Ray join our program in the fall of 2015."

The Division II Crusaders, now in their 10th season, compete in the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas. But what Gradwell said he liked when taking in the Belmont Abbey practices was that they do the same things and treat them like a as would a Division I program.

"They practice like a D (Division) I school and they have a winning history," Gradwell said when asked why he decided on the school and program located in Belmont, N.C. "And they have good academics."

Being in relatively close proximity from CMA to the Belmont Abbey campus allowed Gradwell to earn an invitation to the lacrosse program’s recruiting showcase. He was equally fortunate to have been selected to play on a team of high school players coached by Barrett.

Gradwell’s performance that day put him on the Crusaders’ recruiting board. He cemented that relationship with his signing last week in CMA’s Administration Building.

Gradwell, who has also been a member of the Spartans’ wrestling team in the winter months, said he made the right choice in deciding to attend CMA. The Spartans’ relatively young lacrosse program has already captured a South Carolina Independent Lacrosse League state championship in 2011 and the program has become and remains a force in the statewide circuit.

"I came here to get my grades up," he said. "I did all my stuff right and got a good rank and I’ve had a good experience here."

Saying that the best part of playing lacrosse, for him, has been running up and down the field and using his speed to make plays for the Spartans, Gradwell is fully aware that the pace and tempo of the game will increase when he gets to Belmont Abbey. In the same breath, he said he is ready for whatever college, be in on the lacrosse field or, in the classroom, have in store for him

"There are going to be better players," he said of the change from the high school to the college game. "There are going to be a lot more faster people that you are playing against. They are going to be bigger people."

Before he can concern himself with what lies ahead in college, Gradwell said he is ready to help take the Spartans back into the SCILL state tournament and make a deep post-season run in his final season at the school. However the Spartans finish next spring, though, they will do it with a midfielder who know what the future holds before he ever picks up a stick for a CMA match.

"It’s good to get it all behind me," Gradwell said as he relaxed in a chair, seconds after his signing.

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