France Lacrosse made it’s now bi-annual pilgrimage to Clifton, New Jersey, in late October for their fall tryouts and practices. The 28 players used the weekend to learn the game together, install some of their system, but most importantly get some on-field time together that they may not get for another six months. Despite some early struggles the team was able to have what many in the organization see as a monumental step forward for the growing European program.
France has revamped and reloaded their roster and coaching staff since the 2018 World Championships in Netanya, Israel. France has handed the reigns to Felican University head coach, and previous France defensive coordinator Brenden Bonacum as they prepare to compete in what is destined to be most important European lacrosse championship to date. Bonacum is joined by Dominican College’s Danny Steigert for offense, and Felican’s Travis Blau for defense. The team also has added a handful of new North American blood, while working closely with teams in France to try and continue development of their national players while identifying the next generation of candidates.
Players arrived throughout the weekend, but due to a variety of circumstances they were a bit shorthanded. Most notably France was missing starting goalkeeper Joseph Varela with illness as well as faceoff specialist Kieven Bengal. Despite the absences, 16-out-of-23 players from the last world championships were in attendance. The team worked to adjust from coming from all over, traveling from California to Spain for the weekend of work.
The first test of the weekend came in an official scrimmage against Felician using a combination of World Lacrosse and NCAA rules. Bonacum took the Felican sideline while Steigert and Blau managed the Blues. The standout of the game were clearly Felician’s Ausur Wright and Robbie Grasso, who finished the game with 7 of Felician’s 11 goals. France struggled at the outset, which was understandable as they had never played together in this grouping, and not at all since mid-August. With Varela unable to attend, defenseman AJ Smith was forced into cage. Smith, the vocal leader of the defense, was missed as Felician jumped out to 6-4 halftime lead. The third quarter started out all Felican as they jumped out to 9-4 lead. Team France shook off the jet lag eventually and managed to go on a bit of a run themselves to tie it up 9-9 midway through the fourth. The elation of the comeback was short lived as Felican answered quickly to take a 10-9 lead they wouldn’t surrender. With the defense pressing out to try and force a turnover the Golden Falcons pumped in an easy goal to go up 11-9. France’s efforts to come back using World Lacrosse’s running clock proved ineffective as the final score would see the Golden Falcons victorious by the 11-9 margin. France had an incredibly balanced offensive attack with three players scoring two goals apiece, and a total of five goal scorers. Baptist Desoil and newcomer Seb Morgan proved to give the defense fits with their European attacking style from the wings scoring two goals each.
France had a light practice Saturday, but much of the team rested, recovered, and explored nearby New York City. Much of this time was used for off-field interaction, which is at a premium giving how lacrosse heavy these international weekends can be. With only being able to meet once or twice a year it was good for everyone to get to know each other a bit and catch up with old friends.
Sunday brought an early start to a small round-robin tournament of France, Felician, ASA Community College, and Mercer Community College. Due to logistics issues the first game of the day was France vs. Mercer CC. Mercer, the favorite for the weekend, jumped on a slow starting France team early, and took a 4-0 lead during the first half. Tempers flared as opinions from players and coaches were audible from the sideline as France searched for answers and was determined to not start the day poorly. Smith notably refused to let the team bicker and declared the game an important milestone in team development. Whatever was said at half proved effective as France came back to take the game 5-4 behind two spectacular finishes from Kevin Betrand and capped with the go-ahead goal by Quentin Norris with 30 seconds left.
France’s next game was against ASA Community College, where again they were slow to start with a 3-3 score at the half. The game ended up being closer than expected with a 6-4 France victory against the depleted bench of ASA. In the second half the rain started coming down and it would not relent for the rest of the afternoon.
France finished the weekend with the chance to avenge their Friday loss to Felician. With both teams having played two games and waited in the cold and rain for their game it was a sloppy affair. Both teams struggled to find their sticks with the weather, but in the end, France pulled off an improbable 3-0 record for the tournament with a 4-2 final score in a shortened final game.
The weekend showcased the future and present of France lacrosse with players aged 17 to 37 taking the field. The coaches and staff will look to name the 23 main players and seven alternates for the 2020 European Championships in Wroclaw, Poland in the next few weeks. Regardless of who makes this active roster the future looks bright for the French with strong performances from teenagers Martin Forreau and Louis Gaudre, and newcomers Jeremy Clersy and Keita Cristophe.
For more information about the team and to see if you are eligible you can visit the official website. The European Championships will be the first-ever qualifying tournament for the region, hosted in Wroclaw, Poland from July 24, August 2020. A top-15 finish is the goal for France as they look to qualify for the recently moved 2022 World Championships.