Under a blueish gray evening sky amid a hovering humidity, a semi-circle of 100-odd eager pupils formed around Dave Cottle. The congregation honed in on him as he introduced his star-studded cast that would teach these students for the weekend.
With each speech, Cottle declared the qualities of his entourage, including but not limited to their handsome good looks. Hall of Fame honors, championship wins, and decades of experience spanned the set. Those in attendance watched, enthralled with Cottle’s unique descriptions and the greatness before them, then were divided up and sent to show their skills to Cottle’s crop.
“You don’t compete for some of the time,” Cottle told his audience, spinning as he spoke to include all angles. “You compete all of the time.”
And with that, the Fivestar Championship Challenge was on.
From Friday to Sunday in Columbia, Maryland, the Fivestar Championship Challenge hosted most of the brightest young lacrosse talent in America, bringing more than 100 members of the Class of 2023 to one location to receive coaching from some of legends of the game.
To start the event Friday night, players spent a couple of hours in small groups under the tutelage of the Challenge’s many coaches, including John Desko, Don Zimmerman, Mark Millon, and more. Here, they gave the professionals something to think about when they came together later in the night to draft their teams for the upcoming competition.
It had the feel of a tryout, the coaches imparting their wisdom and their draftees absorbing their lessons. There weren’t behind-the-backs, stick tricks, or flash – just fundamentals and education.
“A lot of showcases are showcases; a lot of kids try to showcase their skills and just do what they’re good at instead of being put into positions where they’re forced to develop,” said Matthew Surin, a defender from Scarsdale, New York, who was attending his first Fivestar event. “A lot of these different drills we did, I’ve done before, but not like this. These coaches, you can feel the passion just in the way they speak to their players, kids they’ve never met before. I feel like I can go talk to one of those coaches about stuff that I’ve been wanting to ask my high school coach.”
On Saturday, the six teams played four games each to determine Sunday’s semifinal participants. In the games, coaches yelled instruction, joked with their players and fellow instructors, and exploited plenty of teachable moments. The athletes nodded approvingly, enquired inquisitively, and listened intently to soak up all the knowledge possible.
“All the guys who are here, they’re here for a reason,” McCabe Millon, an attackman from Baltimore. “They’re the best of the best.”
Players came from far and near to get the Fivestar experience, with some not even needing the amenities of the DoubleTree just a few turns away from Blandair Regional Park and others traversing from the edges of the Pacific Ocean to come close to the Atlantic.
Billy Stephens, a goalie from San Diego, trekked more than 2,500 miles to attend the Fivestar Championship Challenge. He was flattered by the invitation, he said, and wanted to give the event his time in return.
As much as Stephens enjoyed the lacrosse on hand, he was especially impressed with what happened off the field at the event.
On the first day before the Friday night practice, all players checked in. TVs in the hotel’s lobby displayed the upcoming schedule, flags and banners displaying the Fivestar name cloaked the walls, and the athletes were brought into the back to collect their helmet, backpack, and uniform. All athletes were given cards with their name on it, then placed in front of a high-quality camera to capture the moment.
Stephens was stunned.
“The way they set up everything at the hotel, it just made it all that much more special,” he said. “Like everyone’s here, everyone’s being brought together. It made everything seem way more professional.”
While the off-field features set the tone, the on-field competition was the focal point. The intensity of the games increased from Saturday to Sunday when the single-elimination format worked to whittle the field down from four to two. After Alabama edged out Tennessee in a tight semifinal, the Crimson Tide met LSU in the championship game, with Quint Kessenich and Cottle, the main face of Fivestar, on the broadcast.
A close first half was opened up in the second, with LSU pulling away after halftime to claim victory. The players streamed onto the field, coaches Will Dalton and Dave Slafkosky were all smiles, and the presentation of Lids hats and shirts were distributed to the champions minutes later. As congratulations and embraces were abound, attackman Christian Tacogue enthusiastically summarized the experience of the weekend to his fellow champion teammates.
“This is the best way to end the summer!”
This post was sponsored by the Fivestar Championship Challenge.