The World Junior Lacrosse Championships have featured U20 teams from Canada, the Iroquois, and the United States, but in 2019 in Hamilton, Ontario, there will be additional teams competing, and the first big addition is Australia!
The Aussies have long been a top level international program in field lacrosse, and in 2015 the men’s Australian box lacrosse team continued to look solid against an ever-improving and expanding international collection of teams. In order to move up, the Australians will need to provide more access to their young players when it comes to box, and seeing a U20 team from Australia joining the World Junior Lacrosse Championships for 2019 is an excellent step forward.
There is no substitute for playing high level box against the best in the world, and to do so every year will provide a huge opportunity for young Aussies to learn the game, improve their skill set, and improve their chances of someday representing their country at a men’s world championships event, whether it is box or field.
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I was able to catch up with Ric Benedierks, who is running the U20 team out of Australia to see where the team currently stands, what his hopes are for the program, and how interested players can get involved.
Interview with Ric Benedierks
As a former national team player for Australia yourself Ric, what does it mean to wear the green and gold of Australia in international competition?
It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to represent your country on and off the floor. The excitement of your relatives and friends when you are selected is one thing, the moment you arrive at the airport in your Australian uniform and strangers start wishing you well is another. That’s when you start to understand the enormity of what and who you will be representing.
Since this is the first time an Australian group will play international box lacrosse at the U20 level, how are you going about building this first team? Where have you found players already? Any issues in spreading the word?
Currently we have set up an online Expression of Interest page targeting players between the ages of 18 – 20. Already we have a number of players that have registered from WA, SA & Victoria. The problem we have is getting the information to the broader Australian lacrosse community and overseas players that maybe eligible to represent Australia. We want to target the players and not the hardworking volunteer administrators that are already time poor.
If an Australian player has never played box before, can they play for your team? For players who want to give this a real shot, how can they get in touch with you or be considered for the team?
Yes, players with little to no experience can make this team. We welcome in young players who want to compete and learn. Interest to participate for the Australian box lacrosse team and player eligibility information can be found here.
For more information regarding the Australian box lacrosse team competing at the 2019 World Junior Lacrosse Championships please contact Richard Benedierks by email here.
How will you go about transitioning some of these great young field players into top level box players?
We have been in touch with a number of Canadian coaches that have expressed a desire to work with this team. The location of Australia doesn’t help, as the distance and cost will always be a restraint. Ideally, we will conduct two training camps in Australia with the coach/s being present to evaluate and select the final roster.
Can you talk about the development of box lacrosse in Australia in general? What can the future of box lacrosse in Australia look like?
I should start by giving a little background on box lacrosse in Australia as I know it.
Boxla commenced in the mid to late 60’s on the east side of Melbourne playing on outdoor tennis courts. As far as I’ve heard it was a bunch of enthusiastic field lacrosse players that decided to play a different version of the game. Field players used it as pre-season training, so it would be fair to say a lot of field lacrosse was being played in a confined space.
Williamstown Lacrosse Club had set up an outdoor box at their clubrooms around 1970/72. The venue was a little narrow as it was the width of a tennis court and approx. two tennis courts long. The playing surface was a mixture of gravel and dirt, and I’m sure you can imagine what the elbows and knees looked like after most games. Regular box competitions were held there until the late 70’s.
Box has always had a number of passionate people who wanted to see the game grow and we were lucky in Victoria to have the late Mal Taylor and Ken Read, both from the Williamstown club, who worked tirelessly to promote this version of the game. Teams were made up of players from the field clubs that competed in the Victorian Lacrosse Association. Most seasons consisted of a 4-team league in the off season, which happened to be our summer.
Australia received an invitation from Canada to compete at the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth games as a demonstration sport, which I was lucky to be a member of. The Australian Lacrosse Association appointed Ken Read as the Head Coach and the General Manger was Bill Taylor – both of these gentlemen did considerable work behind the scenes to bring players together from Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria.
After that trip ‘box lacrosse’ took a huge step forward with domestic competitions being conducted in Adelaide, SA and Melbourne, Victoria. Each year the two states would bring teams together to play what would become the National Championship.
1980 we saw WA enter a team in the National Championship which was coached by Dave Evans (of the Vancouver Burrards), but unfortunately it has taken them until 2018 to return to the competition. It’s great to have them back. In 1980 Australia also competed at Nations 80 in Vancouver and once again the next domestic season continued to grow in the states of SA and Victoria.
For the next 5 years each state had thriving domestic competitions with a number of Junior A players from BC competing across the leagues. To name a few Rod Bannister, Mike Reelie, Chris Cowie, Tom Huntley, Greg Gilding, Frank Leluene, Len Leonte, Bob Klein, Chris Baker and Ross Frelich all played in our leagues.
The sharing of knowledge and the ability to have one import on each team quickly improved the standard of play across both leagues. The friendships and the life experiences gained by all are still hard to measure, and no doubt it has a lasting effect on everyone involved.
For the next 10 to 15 years the domestic box lacrosse had any number of highs and lows. Altona Lacrosse Club built an outdoor box and we then saw the NAILL come to fruition with sponsorship for each team, but this only lasted for one season.
The next revival of box lacrosse came with the announcement of the 2003 WILC being held in Ontario, Canada. This managed to get a number of SA & Victoria people interested to gather a few of the senior players and a lot of field players interested to enter a team. Approval was granted by the governing body of the day. Since 2003, we have had domestic competition’s taking place in Adelaide & Melbourne.
The biggest issue we have in Australia consistently comes down to lack of venues, and the majority of venues that are close to suitable are roller hockey arenas. The Melbourne competition has finally got a Box Lacrosse floor at Westgate Sports due to the hard work of Altona Lacrosse Club, Allan Lewer, Greg Mollison and a number of other volunteers.
You can see more on that here.
Lacrosse Victoria in conjunction with the NLL, led by Steve Govett now of the San Diego Seals, brought the NLL All Stars to Melbourne for a 2-match series played at Hisense Arena, which is now Melbourne Arena, in October of 2009.
Players included Gary Gait, John Grant Jr, Brodie Merrill and local players Tim Fry (San Jose Stealth), Wes Green (San Jose Stealth), Keith Nyberg, Darren Nicholas, Jake Egan, Ben Newman, Ryan Garnsworthy and Steve Mortimer.
What excites you the most about representing Australia again, but this time off the floor?
I’ve decided to be the manager this time around, and as much as I love coaching, the Australian box lacrosse team needs the knowledge of a box lacrosse coach at the level required to further the development of this age group. As the manager the excitement is no different, because you want everyone to represent Australia as a country that never gives up. Most of all these players need to make the most of this experience and push for selection in 2023, so it’s a very exciting opportunity.
For players who want to be part of this, we’d love to hear from you.
Many thanks to Ric Benedierks for all this info and a deeper look into the 2019 Australian box lacrosse U20 team! The 2019 World Juniors are shaping up to be bigger and better, and we’re thrilled to see the Australian box lacrosse team coming to play.