World lax tournament makes for exciting trip
CORNWALL — My wife Lisa and I have just returned from a two-week trip to England, where we spent July 15 to 24 in Manchester watching the World Lacrosse Championships.
Though we both enjoy watching lacrosse we had a specific reason to attend: Our son, Evan, a former all-star player for Middlebury Union High School now about to enter his senior year at Bryant University in Rhode Island, was selected to play for England. I emigrated from England, becoming a citizen in 1978, but England still allows our children to have a British passport in addition to their U.S. passport — this made Evan eligible to represent England.
The world lacrosse championships started in 1967 with only four teams. They are held every four years, and this year a total of 30 countries were represented. Counting athletes on many youth and girls’ teams, more than 4,000 lacrosse players took part. Sadly, the Iroquois Nation, the founder of lacrosse, was unable to participate this year due to international intransigence.
Participating teams were divided into several divisions, the most important being the Blue Division, which was composed of the six best teams in the world whose level of lacrosse was significantly above the other nations. Teams in the Blue Division included USA, Canada, England, Japan, Australia and Germany; the latter replaced the Iroquois when they were not allowed to attend the event.
(Editor’s note: Great Britain refused to allow the Iroquois to attend under Iroquois passports unless the U.S. assured the U.K. that the team would be allowed back into the U.S. under Iroquois passports. The U.S. refused to make that assurance. The Iroquois insisted as a sovereign nation they should be allowed to use Iroquois passports; the dispute ended in their exclusion.)
Evan tried out for England back in January, traveling over to Manchester for a four-day try-out. He was encouraged to give the England team a shot by his coach at Bryant University, Mike Pressler, who had also been picked as the coach of the U.S. team. Selections for the England team, a total of 23 players, were finalized at the end of April. Evan earned a spot (he wore No. 12) and flew over at the end of May to start practicing with England.
The World Championships opened on July 15 with a parade of all the nations participating, speeches and ceremonies. This was followed by the opening game, England versus Germany.
Evan is a midfielder and faceoff specialist. As he chatted with the German faceoff specialist before getting down to business, Evan found him, Dave Campbell, to be a graduate of Middlebury College — small world. An exciting game resulted in an English 12-3 victory. England had the next day off, playing again on the 17th against Australia.
Australia is England’s nemesis in lacrosse, England having never managed to beat the Aussies in championship games. Unfortunately, England lost, 10-8, playing a lackluster first half and falling behind. The Lions were then unable to close the gap in time.
To the cheers of a significant, vocal group of Aussie supporters, England lost again. The next day England played Japan. This team was very quick, technically very proficient and determined. This game was one of the most thrilling of the tournament.
Again, England fell behind early but was able to climb back and tie the game at the end of regulation. International rules are — surprise, surprise — somewhat different to those we play here.
First, the clock runs continuously, only stopping for goals, penalties and timeouts. Second, overtime is not sudden death: the teams play two five-minute periods, and only if it is still tied do they go to a third “quick-victory” period.
Anyway, with less than a minute left in the second overtime period, England tied the game again. Then Evan won the faceoff, raced to the Japanese goal, and after a couple of back and forth passes, Evan had the ball and unleashed a rocket from 30 feet out to the right of the goal, scoring the winning goal with six seconds on the clock.
There was a dedicated group of Japanese fans, with their cheers for “Nippon!” The Japanese team came over to the fans at the end of the game and bowed.
On Monday the 19th and Tuesday the 20th, England faced the two lacrosse powerhouses, first USA and then Canada. Faceoffs were hard to win against both teams, with each having debatably the best faceoff man in the world right now.
England did not expect to win, but both were exciting and good games. Watching some of the best players in the world was definitely exciting. England lost 17-5 to the U.S. and 17-6 to Canada.
After these two games the playoffs started. England first played Scotland, prevailing 23-9, and then in the semis met Germany again, beating them 14-9. England ended the tournament in the fifth position, somewhat disappointing after a fourth-place finish in 2006, but still a great experience.
On the last day the championship game was played, U.S. vs. Canada. The stands were packed, and a tight back-and-forth game ensued. Both goalies made some phenomenal saves, and to watch Americans like Paul Rabil unleash shots and score was exhilarating. USA won, 12-10, winning back the trophy that Canada claimed in 2006.
The next world championships will be in Denver, Colo., in 2012, when more than 40 countries will be represented. Lacrosse continues to grow both in the U.S. and around the world. Our son had a great time and met lots of interesting people — all the teams roomed in the dorms at the University of Manchester, and socialized when not on the field. It was great fun and thrilling to be there to see the event.