This past weekend showcased a new movement of lacrosse in the USA. Denver University’s Associate Head coach Matt Brown brought his youth pee wee (U12), bantam (U14) and midget (U16) Box Lacrosse teams to California to battle America’s first youth box development and travel program — the Cali*Lax ALL-STARS.
The Cali*Lax ALL-STARS, the state of California’s elite Box Lacrosse program, are coached by 12 year National Lacrosse League pro, Shaydon Santos. The group has also be also been guest coached by internationally recognized box heavy weights like John Grant Jr, Colin Doyle, Jeff Zywicki, Stephen Keogh, Cody Jamieson and current high profile Johns Hopkins attackman, Zach Palmer.
“The Cali*Lax ALL-STARS midget team look like Canadians,” said current University of Denver assistant coach Matt Brown, who excelled collegiately and professionally in both the field and Box versions of the game.
“I was really impressed with their older boys,” Brown added after the recent showcase between his Denver Elite club and the budding California stars.
Cali*Lax ALL-STARS got the jump on American box programs as they were the first in the USA to play in Canadian Box tournaments. The Cali*Lax ALL-STARS were a combined 10 wins and 2 losses over the weekend series, but know the success will not last when looking at the continued growth in places like Denver.
“You’ve got to look at who’s directing these programs,” said Santos. “You look at Denver University Elite’s bench and it’s Matt Brown, the associate coach of Denver University, Cameron Flint, one of Denver University’s top players from Brampton (Ontario, Canada), and Jamie Shewchuk, a six year NLL vet. All could change by the time we meet again.”
“The guys pushing this here in the US are pro and former pro players who spent their entire lives competing at box lacrosse’s highest levels and collectively, we’re trying to close the gap of a hundred year head start by Canadians in the box game,” Santos said. ”Winning at the ‘A’ division in Canada is extremely tough, especially at the older ages for our players who first developed as field players. There’s no skills from field lacrosse that cross over well into box. Everything must be taught from how to pass to how to catch.”
“US kids will always do well in the younger age groups like U10 and U12 because it’s just a passing game at that stage, but as they move towards U14 and U16 and beyond, they can’t ‘wing it’ any more,” Santos continued. “The only way to win is to play a skilled and methodical offensive and defensive system but also have the individual skills to execute in that system. The game’s a heck of a lot more than just a bunch of Canadian kids running around hitting each other.”
The Junior Washington Stealth, directed by NLL superstar Lewis Ratcliff, the Cali*Lax ALL-STARS and the Denver Elite meet a few times each year in preparation of Canadian Tours, in many cases played against Canada’s most talented youth.
“The only way for us to win in Canada is to play well coached programs here in the US,” Santos said. “The only way to have our kids join this Canadian pipeline to US schools is to be able to compete with programs like Whitby (Matthews, Palmer, Greer, Cockerton). When we can build teams that can compete against Canada’s best, you’ll see US schools looking back at the US for those unique ’special’ players”.
The California Invitational was presented by the US Box Lacrosse Association. The weekend tournament started with a three hour USBOXLA referee certification program where eight referees from Denver, California and Canada were put through the paces of the USBOXLA rulebook to ensure the utmost safety for the tournament’s participants. All referees were evaluated over the weekend by some of the box game’s top officials; the top scoring refs then invited to travel with the clubs to their next developmental series here in the USA and to Canada.
Joining the tournament at the High School Elite level were SoCal newcomers Mira Costa and LA ALL-CITY box club, who definitely held their own. The Cali*Lax ALL-STARS travel to Washington this January and February to battle against Ratcliff’s Jr Stealth at the state of the art Comcast Arena in Everett.
Matt Brown’s Denver Elite take on Shaydon Santos’ Cali*Lax ALL-STARS at the California Invitational Box Lacrosse Tournament in San Jose, CA.
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