Mike Prestipino remembers in great detail everything about his first high school lacrosse game in 2017. A freshman at the time, his Conestoga squad took on Maryland powerhouse Calvert Hall, and won it in overtime.
But the biggest takeaway for Prestipino was that he did not get into the game.
“It was a shock to me,” he said. “That was the first time I didn’t get into a game.
“But it was also the last.”
Instead of sulking, it provided motivation for Prestipino.
“I started asking how I could be better every day in practice and how I could get on the field,” he recalled. “And it paid off when my coaches and teammates noticed my work ethic.”
From that point, Prestipino started the next 76 in a row. And that streak would have undoubtedly continued this spring if the season was not cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. He was ranked the 51st best high school player in the nation by Inside Lacrosse, as well as a four-star recruit, heading into 2020.
“Mike is a student of the game who thrives on perfection and is a leader of our team,” said his coach Brody Bush. “He has the best footwork of any defensemen I have ever coached. With his speed/quickness and intelligence on the field he is like having another coach on the field.”
Already a two-time U.S. Lacrosse All-American and all-state pick, Prestipino is headed to the University of Virginia this fall on a full athletic scholarship. His three season high school resume is one that most four-year starters could only dream of. And it goes far beyond the accolades and accomplishments.
“For some reason I can never get enough of the sport,” Prestipino acknowledged. “I’d rather watch film of lacrosse than Netflix.
“I would study the guy I was matched up against for hours. That is one of my favorite things to do. I would know exactly what they wanted to do, when I can take advantage when they hang their stick – stuff like that.”
A native of Berwyn, Prestipino started playing the sport in second grade. He has a vivid memory of his first lacrosse catch with a sibling.
Eight years later, he was such a promising young player that he verbally committed to play at Penn State before he had played a single game for ’Stoga.
“I was just 15,” he said, “which was before I understood what high school (lacrosse) was.”
On September 1st of 2018, as he was beginning his junior year, Prestipino started hearing from other Division I programs.
“I thought I owed it to myself to explore those options, and Virginia just seemed like the perfect fit,” he explained.
With Prestipino anchoring the defense, the Pioneers are 63-14 since 2017. During his freshman and junior years, ’Stoga advanced all the way to the state final before falling to Avon Grove and La Salle, respectively. And as a sophomore, the Pioneers were ousted in the state semifinals.
And Prestipino believes that Conestoga’s 2020 squad could have been even better.
“I’ve never been around a team that was this dedicated and hard-working, so there is no doubt in my mind that we were going to give a good playoff push,” he said. “Everyone was driven and buying in to the same goal.”
At 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, Prestipino isn’t what you would call and big, physical defender. From an early age, however, he’s worked diligently in areas like footwork and technique. He remembers being a little kid and running through agility drills set up by his father in the backyard using ladder and cones.
“I knew that being a smaller defender I’d have to make up for it,” Prestipino said. “Footwork is something I can control.”
And in an effort to get more physical, Prestipino decided to play football at ’Stoga starting his junior year after not playing since middle school. It was the main sport for his older brothers, Nick and Matt.
“I felt like I would be missing out if I didn’t play. Now I wish I had played all four years,” he said.
In two football seasons, Prestipino was a wide receiver and cornerback, and the Pioneers went a combined 10-15. It was a shock to his system.
“You kind of take winning for granted,” he pointed out. “From the time I came in as a freshman, we were winning games in lacrosse. Then in football, we won a couple games a season, so that got me to thinking how lucky I was to be in a lacrosse program that is a powerhouse.”
According to Prestipino, above all else a good defenseman in lacrosse has to understand the game. It also helps to have a disposition that is usually different for offensive-oriented players.
“We don’t get much press – kind of linemen in football,” he said. “That’s why my favorite players on the Philadelphia Eagles are linemen.
“But it’s not about attention — it’s about keeping the ball out of your net.”
Understandably, the absence of lacrosse right now has been very difficult.
“When all of this first happened, coach Bush sent us a really good track workout and some good wall-ball routines,” Prestipino said. “A bunch of guys on the team did that pretty religiously for a while, until the (Teamer Field) track was closed.
“Now all I can do is run around the neighborhood, and I have some free-weights in my basement,” he said.
And, of course, film work is only a few clicks away on the computer.