Thursday, September 01, 2011

In Praise of Off-Season Teams from a Single School

For almost a decade, I've been watching summer lacrosse travel teams do battle with teams from other locales–teams from New Hampshire to Florida, and Texas to Washington– in tournaments with as few as eight teams in the bracket to tourneys with as may as 74 in the bracket. They've all been great fun and cumulate as one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

Over these years, what I appreciate most about summer tourney teams has changed. For whatever reason, I used to be most attracted to the big, fast, powerful hyper-AllStar teams that attempted to amalgamate the very best athletes from a sizable geographic region. Teams like Gotskillz, Tri-State Black, Laxachussets, Long Island Express, Dukes and the Crabs. It was great to see these aggregations of superstars go mano-a-mano against an opposing superstar from another of the very top clubs. I still like to watch these one-on-one battles among the very elite Select teams, but in the last few years I've found myself drawn to the School teams.You know, the teams comprised of players from a single High School. I've had a hard time understanding why this change occurred, but think I finally can explain it – at least to myself.

School teams may attend the same tournaments as Select teams, but they have different objectives. School teams are formed primarily to prepare for next season's  conference play and the Regional, Sectional, and State tournaments that follow. Last year's Seniors have graduated and the heart of the new team will have to be found among the former Juniors, Sophs, and Frosh who were on the Varsity last season. Yes, the players want to be seen by the peripatetic bands of college coaches who carry their Renettos and clipboards, rotating from one field to another every half a game. But the purpose and the attention of their school coaches is focused on building the best possible SCHOOL team for the next season. 

The objectives of recruiting clubs are different. They form teams to showcase the best players in a given grade within an entire region. There is no future for these teams. They play in the moment, for the summer, then they evanesce. Generally, there's not much teaching going on with the recruiting teams. They run basic offenses, have basic slide packages and hope to compete by exploiting mismatches. Off ball movement, off ball picks, fake slides, the two man game, the three man game and other team elements of lacrosse are mostly missing when one watches the recruiting club teams. I've got nothing against Club teams. They serve their purpose. It's just that the play so predictable. There's a lot of individual athleticism and not much coordinated grace. It is what it is.

School teams have team objectives. They exploit with skills and superb coordination. It's beautiful to watch. It's purposeful beyond the objective of getting Jimmy recruited by XYZ DI school. These teams adapt to changing conditions. If the offense isn't effective when initiating with a dodge, they'll switch to initiate off the pick. If neither crease sliding nor adjacent slides are working, you'll see these teams move into a zone. Lacrosse becomes a thinking man's game. I love it!

The different objectives of school teams doesn't mean they can't compete in tournaments dominated by Club teams. De La Salle did very well at the UNC camp a couple of years ago. Saint Ignatius won the UNC Camp a year ago and made the Sweet Sixteen at Champ Camp - the last school team standing! And at Hotbeds this year, the Championship Game was between two School teams - West Islip and Ward Melville.

So, which school teams among our NorCal enclave travel together in the off season? Well, the Snipers, from Monte Vista, go to the Adrenaline Challenge every January, and always do well. They won NCS last year. The De La Salle boys have traveled as a team for the last several years. Many of those years they won NCS. Saint Ignatius, traveling as Fog City, has gone to Champ Camp or the UNC Camp for the last four or five years. They've been the top team in CCS for some while. Bellarmine has traveled as a school team as well. I believe it has helped them become  the powerhouse they are today. Let me know of other schools who travel together in the off season. Don't get me wrong. All of these teams abide by CIF rules and regs, but - within the rules - they find a way to play together in the off season  

So, here's to the School teams! They make Lacrosse endlessly entertaining for fans of the game.