Brendan Mundorf ’07 is one of the world’s best (and toughest) lacrosse players. Now he’s bouncing back from an injury to pursue a professional championship.
By Jeff Seidel ’85
Brendan Mundorf ’07, sociology, still smiles when he remembers his first lacrosse stick: a beautiful blue STX Hi-Wall.
The stick was a gift from his grandmother, given to the two-year-old Mundorf after a trip to see his Uncle Matt play for Mount St. Mary’s lacrosse team. He used it practically non-stop in all kinds of weather, shooting balls at a goal or the side of his grandparents’ shed.
The future UMBC and professional lacrosse star played his first game when he was five.
More than two decades later, Mundorf ’s early passion for the game has blossomed into an impressive college and professional career, including two America East Player of the Year awards during his time at UMBC, professional lacrosse’s top individual honor (the 2012 Most Valuable Player award in Major League Lacrosse) and a world championship playing for the United States’ national team in 2010.
“Lacrosse was just what I loved to do,” recalls Mundorf. “I’d just be spending hours with a stick in my hand. That was my passion. I’ve known that since I was really young.”
Yet as Mundorf stands at the pinnacle of his beloved sport, he faces a new challenge. He’s spent the last few months recovering from an ankle injury that sidelined him in his pursuit of the one goal he hasn’t achieved in professional lacrosse: a team championship.
“That’s what continues to drive me to get better and improve every year,” says Mundorf. “It’s not getting old, that’s for sure.”
Those who know him best are convinced Mundorf will be back at the top of his game.
“He’s got that workhorse mentality, and I’d say he’s kind of like Terrell Suggs of the [Baltimore] Ravens,” observes Kevin Gibbons-O’Neill ’86, economics, assistant athletic director for fundraising and development at UMBC. “He knows he’s going to get killed in games, but he’ll keep going after it until he gets what he wants. He’s just a tough guy, and if I’m going to a fight, I’m taking him with me.”
An untimely appendectomy may have played a decisive role in Mundorf becoming one of UMBC’s men’s lacrosse legends.
The young attacker was a highly regarded player at Mount St. Joseph High School, but he missed about six weeks of his junior year when he had his appendix removed. Mundorf ’s absence in a crucial recruiting period may be why he fell off the radar of some Division I lacrosse programs, but UMBC and the University of Delaware both made strong plays to lure him to their teams.
“He did not have the accolades that some other recruits have going into the recruiting process,” recalls UMBC lacrosse coach Don Zimmerman. “But we saw something we liked. It was more in his attitude, his approach, and his blue-collar work ethic. He played with passion, and you just can’t teach that.”
Mundorf chose UMBC and made an immediate impact, breaking into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2003. It was the beginning of a storied college career, during which the four-year starter tallied 111 goals and 74 assists.
Though Mundorf was in the starting lineup almost from the moment he stepped on campus, Zimmerman says Mundorf blossomed into a team leader late in 2005, during a season when the Retrievers won the America East regular season title and the then-junior earned the conference’s Player of the Year award.
“He really hit his stride [then],” observes Zimmerman. Mundorf ’s leadership continued into his senior year (2006) – which was also one of the university’s best-ever men’s lacrosse campaigns. The Retrievers went undefeated in the America East conference, won the conference tournament and earned a berth to the NCAA tournament.
Drew Westervelt ’09, economics, played with Mundorf at UMBC during that exciting season and then later in professional lacrosse leagues. “In college, you have demands of training that everyone has to do,” Westervelt remembers. “He never took short-cuts. It’s contagious. I think a lot of us tried to operate that way.”
Mundorf ’s individual excellence that season was rewarded with another America East Player of the Year award and selection as a third-team All-American. He was also named the Most Outstanding Player in the America East tournament, where he tallied five goals and one assist in UMBC’s 19-10 victory over Albany in the championship game.
Gibbons-O’Neill still remembers another game that season when Mundorf sparked a 20-9 victory over the State University of New York at Stony Brook with seven goals, including four straight goals in a span of less than two minutes in the third quarter.
“[Stony Brook] double-teamed him everywhere,” recalls Gibbons-O’Neill. “They checked him everywhere, kept hitting his arm, his shoulder, and kept trying to knock him down. He just kept going and going. It was incredible.”
TOP OF THE WORLD
Mundorf ’s excellence as a Retriever had not gone unnoticed by another lacrosse insider with Retriever connections, and the UMBC star made the leap from collegiate to professional lacrosse in less than two weeks.
Former UMBC assistant coach Jarred Testa, who was the head coach of the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse in 2006, contacted Mundorf on a Tuesday to ask the attacker if he had registered for the pro league’s draft.
Mundorf had not done so. But at Testa’s suggestion, he did. The Outlaws drafted him in the second round on Thursday and flew him out to Denver the following Friday. On Saturday night, Mundorf played his first game for the team, scoring two goals and realizing he liked the professional game.
“It just sort of worked well with me,” says Mundorf. “It just clicked right away.”
Professional lacrosse has continued to click with Mundorf ever since. Not only has he played seven seasons with the Outlaws in the outdoor professional lacrosse league, but he’s also played the indoor National Lacrosse League with the New York Titans (who selected him in the first round of that league’s draft in 2007) and the Philadelphia Wings.
Mundorf has also played in two Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) world championships: once for Australia in the 2006 games held in Canada and most recently for the worldchampion United States team in the 2010 tournament in Manchester, England.
Mundorf ’s father is Australian, so when the Retriever standout couldn’t make the 2006 United States squad, he landed a successful four-day tryout in the Land Down Under during his senior year at UMBC. Not only did Mundorf make the Australian team, but he led it with 32 points, a tally that tied him for third place in the 2006 tournament.
Mundorf told his Australian compatriots well in advance that he wanted to play for the United States in 2010. And this time he made the American squad.
“You can be a great lacrosse player and have a great career and still not get on the world team,” observes Mundorf. “That was a goal of mine, even when I was in college. It’s at the top of the mountain.”
Mundorf was a key contributor in the United States’ gold medal effort, scoring a crucial goal in the 12-10 championship win over Canada. His 17 goals in six games also helped him earn a spot on the All-World team for the tournament.
“There are only three attackmen in the world who get that honor every four years,” says Mundorf. “It’s where every lacrosse player wants to be. The first time [with Australia], I don’t think anybody knew who I was, but I think the [World Games] are what helped put me on the map.”
LIVIN’ THE OUTLAW LIFE
The 2014 world championships will be held in Denver – a city where Mundorf ’s attacking prowess has made him one of the brightest stars of professional lacrosse.
Leading the high-powered Outlaws offense, Mundorf had his best year as a professional last year, with a tally of 32 goals and 27 assists that earned him Major League Lacrosse’s Most Valuable Player award.
Denver Outlaws general manager Tony Seaman cites Mundorf ’s physical style as a key to his success, and he often marvels at the physical toll that the game exacts on Mundorf ’s body as they travel back to Baltimore together on Sunday mornings after Outlaws games.
“I’d think how the hell is this guy walking?” says Seaman. “How does he carry a bag? I watch him get hit for two-and-a-half hours and get the crap beaten out of him. When he turns the corner, he knows he’s going to pay for that shot. He knows somebody’s coming to deck him. His body takes an incredible beating, and he just goes on.”
Eventually, however, the beating took its toll at the worst possible moment. At a late August practice just a few days before the Major League Lacrosse 2012 championship tournament, Mundorf felt something pop in his left ankle. He was diagnosed with a torn ligament and two dislocated tendons.
The Outlaws were the tournament’s top seed, and Mundorf sat out his team’s semifinal victory against the Long Island Lizards hoping that the extra day of rest might allow him to play the following day.
Before the championship game against the Chesapeake Bayhawks, Mundorf and the Outlaws’ team doctor concurred that the player’s inevitable surgery meant that he likely couldn’t do any further damage to the tendon by trying to play. Aided by a shot of novocaine, Mundorf moved around well enough in warm-ups to play early in the championship game and even score a goal. But the pain returned and cut Mundorf ’s appearance short in a game the Bayhawks eventually won 16-6. (See “Net Achievements”)
“It was tough but I think I looked at it in as positive a way as possible,” Mundorf says of having to watch and cheer from the sidelines. “It happened, and now I’ve got to do the best that I can to keep the guys focused and do what I can from the sidelines. That was just the job I had to do in that situation.”
REHAB AND REFLECTION
With a world championship and a string of personal accolades behind him, no one would blame the 28-year old Mundorf for putting his stick away after last summer’s injury. He’s certainly not in it for the money: The maximum salary in Major League Lacrosse is only $1,000 per game. (When he isn’t playing lacrosse, Mundorf works as an operations manager at his family’s business – M&M Sediment Control, based in Hanover.)
But like other elite athletes, Mundorf wants to keep competing. He focused last fall on rehabbing his ankle, not just to add to his totals as the Outlaws’ all-time leading scorer (206 goals and 100 assists), but also to help Denver win its first championship.
“We’ve had a lot of success in Denver,” observes Mundorf. “I think we’ve won more games in this past seven years than any other team, but we haven’t been able to put a championship in the books.”
And so, the boy who wouldn’t put down the stick that his grandmother gave him doesn’t plan on putting it down anytime soon.
“There was never a thought that went through my head about not rehabbing and not playing,” Mundorf says. “I still want to play. I still love the game.”