Netanya, Israel July 17th, 2018
Ahhh… the storybook state of Israel, one of the oldest, most complex, most surreal places in the Middle East, and one of the most beautiful. Israel is tucked against Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. Most of its western part are coastal facing the sea. It’s not like Egypt, it’s not like Morocco, and it sure isn’t like Spain. This is a place where Christianity, Judaism and Islam traded places, shared space — its effect & influences are all out to be seen and experienced. It turns out that for the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships, it is held in Netanya, Israel — of course it wasn’t to be missed by the Bandits. This is our story of the 6-day journey of the sport’s biggest competition and a historic moment.
Game day. The first one for us and it’s against our hosts, the Israel White in the Festival competition of world games. Having had the pleasure of getting to know a few of our hosts afterwards we’ve learned that some are from Israel, homegrown, while many have traveled in from the US to help out the growth the game. It’s quite a feeling for them to represent and wear the jersey of their ancestral homeland, this experience goes way beyond sport. The fact that it’s a festival side of the tourney and not a medal ranking game did not affect how it felt for them. Many have come over and participated in youth clinics and taught the ways of the game to the locals, and planted seeds. Their contribution directly results in how the game will spread in the country, the type of people attracted and come into the sport, and who will continue the work and so on. It all starts with youth development, this is fundamental.
On the Bandits side, we had a quick intro with the new players who’ve joined us from Ohio, British Columbia, California, Poland, literally from all over, typically Bandits style. In hindsight, I was glad to have had the good sense to ask Tom Potter & John Boyer to co-captain alongside with me. From the onset, the tone was set with this pair contributing their experience and leadership, I was stoked to see it —the rest of day rolled with guys slotting in to the roles, filled, and supported each other. Needless to say, the team gelled quickly and came out with an impressive win.
It was an experiment of mine to see if mixing experience and youth would give us another dimension, it turned out brilliantly! For example, Tom took 90% of our face-offs for all of our games, he was involved in all of our offensive plays as well as defend— harking back to the traditional 2-way middies who did everything—quite rare in the modern game of FOGO specialists who do their bits, and get rest. While Perry Mccollouch was literally in every key defensive play somehow, John was the back-bone of our D, his direction blended in well with our goalie James Lloyd, who seemed to pull out memorable games after another. Their booming talk & communication was unbelievable, psyching out our opponents. If that didn’t intimidate, we had Mark Wilson who wielded the long-pole like it was an extension of his massive frame. Mark out-muscled & out-smarted attackers as if he wasn’t satisfied with his morning breakfast at all.
In the attack, alongside myself we had Nick Constanz who was wily around the cage like a cat and made it busy for the Israeli defense. It was literally being in a team that included 5-6 coaches playing together. I can rattle off these guys’ lax resumes which will take forever but take my word for it—it was a real treat for our young fellas to be on the same field with these vets.
It’s not to say that our players who’ve just finished university didn’t make their impact. In fact it was the contrary—from the first whistle and scrum of loose balls, we saw the bursts of power & speed of Maciek Stefaniak (AKA Magic) scooping up balls and run through players like a rugby player with a grenade on his strong hand. We found Magic through Sheffield (Andrew York) and Harry Owrid—these guys have a long history together from their college days with Maastricht. They were the glue for the team, it’s not something you can find on stats sheets but their youthful attitude & chemistry fed the team’s spirit; reminding us why we all keep playing this game—for FUN.
Fred Stepp, another newcomer & a friend of Harry’s, also showed blazing speed and ran around every player in the tourney like a rabbit. By the end of the game, I glanced over to Tom & John, no need to talk further about our clearing options anymore(as per our captains meeting 2 days earlier), that doubt was certainly resolved with Fred, our 1-man clearing machine.
Ryder Cochrane (from Lax All-stars) was another good pick-up who proved to us that he was an all-around-solid player and played well for us.
No.22 – this number in lax is the equivalent to the the revered no.23 in basketball (Air Jordan). Gary Gait is arguably the greatest offensive player in the history of the sport, he wore no.22 at Syracuse university. Other stars who had the number subsequently took on the responsibility of the spotlight as “Show-time”. It was reserved for SU players who possess not only the extraordinary skills but also a stylish game to back up the hype. And Casey Powell is THE no.22 in our generation. Ok, some may argue his brothers Michael & Ryan have done well with it also. We were all excited to get a chance to play against him as being huge fans of Casey. His band of all-star players represented “World Lacrosse Foundation” and they were top seed in the tourney. For more info on Casey’s foundation and its excellent non-profit mission, click here.
Day 2 started early for me at 7 am. I had first made a successful run of shuttling players who needed lifts to the field early. Then I raced back in the rental car to pick up the rest of the team from the airbnb apartment we were staying at. Then it happened—the car simply locked up with the security code malfunctioning, this lovely piece of tech had shut the engine down completely. The same code which worked for the past 3 days didn’t this time, and it made us wait for 2 min intervals at a time before the beeping stopped—it needed a reset but nothing seemed to work. After 20 min of struggle which seemed like an eternity, I was thinking of options like taxi… looked at the watch, our game starts in 15min! it takes 30 min in the car to drive to the field. In a state close to panic, luckily from the back-seat Magic shouts “let me have a go!” and we traded places. it turned out THAT was the reset—opening/closing the driver’s door! There you have it– welcome to the joys of travel. Needless to say, We were burning rubber and leaving skid marks on the road– it was a race against time, lord help us if we get flagged by the cops– we had a game to catch.
We dashed to the ground to an anxious group of referees, we scurried on the field with our cleats & helmets barely on– I must say it was the worst ever way I can remember to start any lax game. We were dropping passes, getting beat on ground balls, had no real rhythm during the whole game; mentally we were off-sync & bodies stiff as corpses. In summary, to say it was a lop-sided-affair and a convincing win for WLF would be a severe understatement. We gave them a loud cheer and happily shook their hands, but in the inside it was disappointing that we weren’t ourselves, wondering if we’d ever get a chance to redeem ourselves against this team. You try to dust off a loss and move on but this one stung quite hard at least for the moment.
Thankfully we had the day-trip to Jerusalem planned right after the game, to get our minds off–a road trip! To see the open road was exactly what we needed. Interestingly though that day, more than several Israeli drivers all seem to have a collective dislike to indicating when changing lanes. Couple that with low-flying birds who seemed to be losing focus during flight and missing the windshield by centimeters, we had a few WTF outcries at humans & fauna around us. We had just shrugged it off and wondered “it’s gotta be the humidity & the scorching heat?”. It was definitely HOT! no argument there.
My companions got a tip from the locals about a route to reach the peak of a hill, for great views of Temple Mount — they became obsessed with it, to make it up there “somehow” before the sun sets, less than 30min left then. Oh well, that dashes any chance to visit mount Zion which was close by. My arrival to Zion must wait until the next opportunity. Was so close though…
We did make it to the top of the hill which offered great views of the Dome of the Rock / Mount Moriah.
In Jewish tradition the Rock (where the dome was built) is the Foundation Stone, the birthplace of our world and where God gathered the dust used to create the first human, Adam.
Muslims’ tradition also sees it as the womb of the world and their Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey to heaven started from the rock at the center.
From Christian history, its then Jewish temple (on the Rock) was the destination for the Chosen One from Nazareth who rode up on a donkey one day, long ago.
We drove home back to Netanya in a cramped car of 5 burly guys (that rental car took a real beating that day), but were happily enriched from the day’s experiences.
When the Bandits took the field next time, it was safe to say we had a chip on our shoulders, being outclassed by WLF a day earlier we had point to make to ourselves— we are far better than our last outing, we will prove it today. Unfortunately for Israel Blue who played admirably throughout the tourney, they were on the opposing side and took the full brunt of a raging bull. It was a dominant performance from the Bandits from the first whistle. Everyone was switched on and played their A-game, and it showed.
We had a short break from the scorching sun & humidity in the shade. Next up was Team Japan for a spot in the finals.
Our venerable opponents gave us everything that day– speed, skills, organization, heart. They came out with guns blazing and looked sharp from the get-go. We had to raise our level of play dramatically or this game was getting out-of-hand quickly. Collectively we were feeling highly motivated and determined to earn the bid to meet Casey’s team once again.
Japan was clearly fresher than us as it was their first game in the day. Going for a ground-ball & winning it meant you’d be surrounded by 3-4 Japanese players who seem to appear suddenly and hack away rapidly at your stick like excited ninjas! It was thrilling and it was a fight for every possession with intensity. They’ve earned our respect as well as our friendships at end of the game. Even the head referee came up and thanked us for a great contest to be part of and shared a great moment with the guys on the bench. Great battle– I was content from it even though it wasn’t a victory for the Bandits. Japan had edged us by a few goals and deserved the win from a early lead they gathered in the first half.
Somehow we managed to be in the championship game of the tourney (via points in favor/against from the round-robin games), to face the WLF team once again! We had a big problem being 4 players down– due to injury or from coaching responsibilities in the world-placement-games (By the way, our Mark coached his team Jamaica to an epic win against Sweden for a world ranking that same morning). John & I had put on our recruitment caps on and went around the tournament scouting for able-bodied players. Luckily we had interests from several players from team Japan and Scotland’s own The Highlanders. These fellas did a terrific job for us filling the holes.
The game’s first 3 minutes was like this— no.22 deftly swerves around the crease from X & scores a crazy behind-the-back goal. Then a quick face-off win for WLF and Casey scores an even a more impressive goal 30 seconds later. It took us an good half of the game before settling down our nerves and we had made a few runs of our own, even made our opponents break a sweat and get frustrated at times.
We’ve put the pressure on them in the second half a lot more worked to a pretty goal with Tom quick-sticking it near the crease, a great TEAM goal. The defender who had played me hard all tourney came and asked me during a break in the play “is this the same team from last time? You guys are playing way differently today…” my response was “It’s the same team with the core guys, yes. We had much to redeem ourselves from from the poor showing last time.” Let me say that I was thrilled about our efforts this time. The WLF were the deserving victors & champions with a dominant 1st half, and the Bandits were certainly proud to have put together a good challenge especially the 2nd half.
Feeling high from the finals, we’ve heard that our new friends from The Highlander’s need more players for their game in less than an hour. Of course we were happy to go play for them. John, who had broken his thumb today, said he’d taped it up with a piece of hard plastic and keen to play— legend. We’ve packed our gear up into the car to head to play another and this time wearing Scottish colors. By far the best video recording I had done on the tour was this 30 sec sweep of the field with the bag-pipes going off just prior to the game. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.
It was a toss-up of what was more impressive– winning & pushing the ball to Andy O’Donnell fashioning a traditional kilt on a fast-break, our goalie James wielding a short-stick and playing midfield with a bum knee, or seeing John playing through a broken thumb and smashing bodies like it’s his last day on earth. We did alright in the end, and we practically had to pull John off from the field as we heard him signing up to play another game right after that. “John, you’re a soldier but get your thumb look at by a doctor at least.” was our explanation to him as we were pulling out from the parking lot. I truly love this game for the real characters I meet I must say.
Knowing what I know now, I must admit that I came to Israel mostly ignorant of its rich history and will leave Israel…still quite ignorant for the most part. Hungry to tap more into its intricate history and culture, I will return no doubt to explore & experience more. We had scratched the surface and got a sample flavor..truly a special place in the globe.
Happily reminded once again that mixing my 2 passions—lacrosse & exploring makes a perfect combo; like bread & cheese, Batman & Robin, Netflix & a comfy couch…