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July 25, 2011

Top 10 Moments at the ESPN Rise Games

Decompressing after eight days at the ESPN Rise Games for the four US Lacrosse events at ESPN Wide World of Sports last week, and I wanted to share some observations while they were still fresh in my mind. For starters, thanks to Champion, the sponsor for both the Champion All-American Showcases, and the US Lacrosse U15 National Championships. Their support makes these memory-making events possible.

I absolutely love our events because they help bring US Lacrosse to life where people’s passion comes out – on the field. So much of what our member and donor support allows US Lacrosse to do is behind the scenes – building consistent training programs for coaches and officials, tracking injury data to help make the game as safe as possible, developing appropriate rules for the games, providing support for grassroots efforts around the country. These events are a platform to see our efforts in action.

Without further delay, here are 10 of my favorite moments, not ranked, from our 2011 US Lacrosse events at the ESPN Rise Games:

1. Seeing four teammates help a very petite young girl get suited up in goalie gear. The Pacific Falcons White goalie Zoe Stephensen broke her ankle coming out of the cage for a ball and the team had only one goalie on the trip. Caroline Ricci volunteered to step up to play goalie and helped the team win a one-goal game over Washington State. Later in the day, Amanda Marks and Natalie Yorba all chipped in to help in goal and the Falcons ended up winning three one-goal games, the last coming as Ricci scored the game-winner against Team Georgia.

2. Seeing the fun that future college teammates were having at the Champion All-American Showcase. On the girls’ side, Team Freedom had four future Stanford players – 2012 recruits Kyle Fraser and Anna Salemo and 2013 verbal commitments Paige Southmayd and Adrienne Anderson on the same team. I talked with Florida native Courtney Swan and one of the things she liked about the event was getting her first real chance to hang out with a future Virginia teammate, Sloan Warren.

3. Carney Mahon eventually scored four goals to lead For the Love of the Game to the boys championship, but in the semifinals he scored the game-winner with 26 seconds to beat the Long Island Express 7-6. But as the final horn sounded, Mahon didn’t rush to join a celebration pile, he first put his arm around his friend on the Express team, Sam Bonafede. Great sportsmanship moment.

4. Speaking of sportsmanship, that’s exactly what Long Island Jesters coach James Byrns was talking about on Sunday morning about an hour before the boys U15 championship game. He also officiates and told me how great the sportsmanship was at the US Lacrosse event. He said he had seen kids trading punches at an event last week and then said, “There’s none of that here.”

5. Byrns was smiling throughout the weekend, even when his team was down 3-0 to the Nor Cal Talons in the semifinals after the first quarter. He told his team, “It’s 3-0, not 30-0.” His positive approach paid off as his team rallied, with his own son scoring four goals in the semifinal win. Pretty surreal moment that I’m sure the family will remember for a long time.

6. The Nor Cal Talons have had two straight great runs in the U15 boys’ championships and Nick Mayle is a fun guy to watch coach. He’s intense, but a very classy guy. After his team came from behind to edge out a gutsy, outsized, younger Dukes HHH team, 7-5, in the playoff round, Mayle told his Nor Cal team, “You look every one of those kids in the eye and tell them what a great game they played.”

7. So much fun to see some of the biggest names in college lacrosse in recent years giving back to the sport as youth coaches – Shannon Smith (Long Island Top Guns), Theresa Sherry (Nor Cal Elite), Danielle Spencer (Nor Cal Elite), Kyle Harrison (DH Lax Elite), John Christmas (Dukes HHH), Josh Sims (Team Colorado) and Ken Clausen (Team Colorado) were among the celebrities.

8. There’s a lot of talk about the quality of play improving around the country – and there was plenty of proof of that all week. One of the players that really jumped out to me was Halston Harding in the boys’ Champion All-American Showcase games. He’s an impressive looking athlete than ran right by people and showed a powerful shot. And, oh yeah, he’s from Las Vegas.

9. Central Florida – you’ve got some great people working for the sport on your behalf. Seeing the dedication of Don and Trina Balch with the officials for the events and Mary Hopkins with the volunteers was a real treat. Those three dedicated a ton of time and effort to the events, and were a real pleasure for the USL staff to work with.

10. For so many people, Quint Kessenich is the voice of lacrosse. You can hear him on ESPNU calling college games in the spring and MLL games in the summer, but what you might not know is how hard he works to prepare. He spent all day Wednesday and Thursday talking with the players, coaches and anyone else he could find to learn more about the kids playing in the Champion All-American Showcase in preparation for his broadcast of Friday’s championship game. The guy knows his stuff, and it’s because of the effort he puts in. You can tell by the look in his eye that it’s a labor of love.


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