MSLA Spotlight: Shady Side Academy

Cam Thompson begins his sixth season as the head boys lacrosse coach at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thompson is a Baltimore native who played soccer and lacrosse at the McDonough School.

He played college lacrosse at Hobart College. After graduation, Thompson moved to Pittsburgh to work in finance.  

He got his start in coaching with PYLAX’s youth organization with the 7th and 8th grade teams. He would eventually land the offensive coordinator position on Chris McCrady’s staff at Fox Hill High School.

Thompson worked closely with McCrady and learned a lot about the ins and outs of coaching beyond what happened on the field. From working with the school to talking with parents, Thompson credits McCrady for helping provide the foundation for his own program. 

Thompson eventually would move on to become the head coach of Shady Side Academy during the 2017-2018 school year.  Shady Side was a natural fit.

Thompson spoke about how the school reminded him of his time as a student at the McDonough School. It’s an experience now that he gets to share with his two young boys.

“Shady Side feels a whole lot like McDonough from where I grew up and what I was accustomed to. Both have boarding programs and the campuses and student-athletes are similar. The focus on multi-sports is something that I loved and that I thought was important. I am fortunate now that my two boys go to Shady Side. One is in sixth grade and one is in the fourth grade. They get to come to practice in the evenings after their school day, just like I did when I was a kid and it’s been a pretty cool experience.”

Embracing & Encouraging Multi Sport Athletes  

Coach Thompson and I have both been coaching for the last 15+ years. During our conversation, we spoke about the trend of players beginning to specialize rather than play multiple sports in high schools. Coach Thompson shared how he and his staff encourage his players to play multiple sports.

“We make sure all of our athletes know that they are encouraged and almost expected to play another team sport throughout the year. They see us in the stands, watching them play, and compete in other sports. Any off-season skill development or weight room requirements that we have comes after their in-season sport.”

Shady Side promotes multi sport athletes by requiring their students to participate in at least two team sports over four semesters during their high school career. Coach Thompson spoke of some of the benefits he has seen with his players playing multiple sports.

“One, it reduces burnout. It also teaches our guys to play different roles on different teams. They might be a starter and a go-to goal scorer for us. But maybe on the basketball court, they’re coming off the bench and it’s their role to grab rebounds and play great defense and push guys in practice. I think right now, our basketball team is heading into the WPIAL playoffs and three of the five starters are lacrosse first guys. We’ve got another six or seven guys that are playing hockey as well right now. We want those types of athletes, we want those types of kids that love to compete.”

Coach Thompson told me that one of his players had never picked up a stick before his freshman year. The young man now has an opportunity to go play D3 lacrosse when he graduates in two years.

The Most Unique Schedule in Western Pennsylvania

Looking ahead to the 2023 lacrosse season, Thompson has created a challenging schedule for his team. Thompson looks to create the “most unique lacrosse experience in Western Pennsylvania” for his players. Here are a few highlights on some of Shady Side’s 2023 opponents. 

  • Shady Side opens its season against Archbishop Curley High School at the USA Lacrosse Complex in Sparks, Maryland. Archbishop Curley won the 2022 MIAA B Conference Championship in Baltimore.
  • Shady Side is a founding member of the MSLA. This year they will play Culver Military Academy, Western Reserve Academy, and Mason High School, and compete in the MSLA tournament on May 5th and 6th. These games are important not only for the team but also for the Shady Side community. Thompson’s friends and Shady Side alums are always quick to ask about how the team will do in MSLA play. 
  • Detroit Catholic Central comes to Pittsburgh in April. The schools used to meet when Central was in the MSLA. Catholic Central is one of the top teams in Michigan and has competed in the semifinals or state finals in each of the last nine years, winning one state championship.

Thompson hopes that the challenging schedule will pay dividends when his team competes in the WPIAL and PIAA tournaments in May and June.

“We’ve tried to build one of the toughest schedules in western Pennsylvania to provide exposure for our guys. The entire schedule really sets us up for and prepares us for the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs. When you come back from playing Culver, Western Reserve, Kiski Prep, or Penn Charter you’re hoping that this type of competition prepares our athletes to play at a high level in May and June, when it matters.”

2023 Player Spotlight  

Coach Thompson is excited about the 2023 season. He has three players that are committed to play at the D1 level. I asked him to share his experience with each of the players and what makes them special to Shady Side.

Mac Mohn ‘24
Commitment: Harvard

“I remember when he came to visit Shadyside (in middle school), he said, ‘Coach Thompson, all I want to do is go play, Ivy League lacrosse’. At that point, you look at the 14-year-old, and you kind of pat him on the back and say, yeah, I know, I would love for you to do that to Mac. And sure enough, he’s gonna do it. It’s because of his work ethic. Mac has made a huge commitment, along with a lot of our other guys where he’s gone down and played on a great club team down in Annapolis that helped his development. Mac is going to have to step into more of a quarterback role for us this year. He had a huge WPIAL championship game for us and has just stepped up into some really big moments in the past, and we’re expecting him to do that as well this year.”

JP Henry ‘23
Commitment: Marquette

“JP is a total lacrosse rat. It is all he wants to do and all he thinks about. It shows by his play, his passion, and his enthusiasm for his teammates. When he was getting recruited by Marquette, Coach Stimmel actually made a comment that he loved watching our film. It didn’t matter who scored, he loved JP’s excitement. JP is an incredible goal scorer. He’s got great hands, shoots the ball well, and he’s worked really hard in the weight room this offseason. We’re excited about the role that he’s going to step into with us losing Ethan this year.”

Ethan Salvia ‘23
Commitment: Marquette

“Ethan is a two-time All-American and the most disciplined and focused student-athlete I’ve ever been around. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL this winter and will miss his senior season. He will be with us, though, on the sideline and working primarily on the offensive end, as sort of an assistant coach and helping with our man-up and seeing the game from a different perspective.”

Favorite Drill: Cadet Drill 

One of my favorite parts about talking to coaches is learning a new drill. Coach Thompson shared with me one of his favorites: Cadet Drill. This drill helps you work on pushing the ball in transition, settled and unsettled situations, and in the clearing game.

Editor’s Note: Follow Craig on Twitter.

Committed 2023 and 2024s apply for Lacrosse Playground University powered by Matt Rambo this July.

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Craig McMichael

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