Author’s Note: Through the 2017 season, we’ve partnered with the Interstate Box Lacrosse Association (IBLA) to give you an inside look at what’s going on around the country in all three Regional Box Lacrosse Leagues (RBLL). Since things kick off this weekend, let’s get caught up.
There’s a breath of fresh air in the American box lacrosse scene, setting the golden standard for how things should be done stateside. When I say fresh, I don’t mean all that new. The model being followed has been tried and true in Canada for well over a hundred years. Brandon Scharaga’s passion project, the Interstate Box Lacrosse Association, or IBLA, has exploded from a summer outlet for a group of athletes in Colorado, to a full blown cross-country operation.
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The first year looked incredibly different from today, with only two teams in only one state. The rosters were essentially in place so Scharaga and friends would have an outlet to play box lacrosse the right way in the Rockies. In just a few short months, Colorado’s Regional Box Lacrosse League (RBLL) has boomed to eight teams, split evenly between Senior A and B. Each team has their own home arena, in their own individual towns, something to build pride around.
Needing a Bigger Boat
Scharaga recognized that box lacrosse was building a solid foundation in Colorado, thanks to well coached youth programs and having a NLL team in town to develop a strong following.
Yet, for American adults, there’s a major drop off when it comes to finding quality organized box. So the RBLL was founded, using CLA-based rules, on full sized floors, with coaches, GMs, and the whole shebang.
Guys around the state saw how successful the first season went and hundreds threw their name into the ring for the second season. Only planning to add two teams for the second year, they had to figure out what to do with all of these people, aside of turning them away.
Instead of watering rosters down by adding more teams, or wasting guys’ time as practice players, the decision was made to add B sides to every team. This gives a place for guys to learn the game by getting reps and playing a schedule of their own.
Keep It Growing
On top of adding two new teams, and a B side for each of them, the league has now expanded to two more states in the offseason. Minnesota and Oregon were quick to get on board, each following Colorado’s model by starting with two teams in different cities.
Minnesota and Oregon took note of what was going on in Colorado and linked up with Scharaga to see how they could duplicate it in their states. Both are former NLL markets that still have the taste for high level senior lacrosse. That’s where the IBLA was born, thus creating the need for the first national championship in November.
Just like in Canada, you win your state (or province), and you go to the big dance. The top team from Oregon, Minnesota, and Colorado will meet in the founding state for a three-way playoff.
This isn’t the first time the IBLA took the show on the road to test the waters. In a preseason exhibition, the Mile High Stars took on the Denver Buzz a state away in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Looking to grow interest around box lacrosse and just do something new for all involved, they went mobile and gave guys a chance to shake the rust off or prove why the deserve their spot.
The goals in Colorado are to build. It starts by building excitement for the game, both with players and with fans. It’s about building talent, in motion by separating a massive pool into A and B. They also want to build consistent and proficient officials, dedicating resources to training refs properly. The IBLA also wants to build a rock solid operation, focused on developing strong and reliable management across the board.
They’ve been working to market themselves to the local community and give locals sports fans something to be excited about. Scharaga believes it’s something people should get behind…
“towns now have their own teams and there’s finally something to cheer for locally outside of high school.”
It’s exciting, affordable entertainment at $5 a game and the kids get in free. The main goal is just to introduce people to the game so they can fall in love with it.
Providing a great experience so players and fans want to return, and others are drawn in, is the roadmap to expansion.
After winning the inaugural Front Range Cup, Parker has heavily reloaded for the season. On the backend they got their leader, former NLL defenseman, Dan Finck and both goalies back. On the other side returns the firepower of Tyler Snyder and the massive Clark Woodard. They’re poised to defend their title and make a run at the first Nationals, but it’s going to be a whole lot harder than last year.
Under the helm of Dave Dennenberg, Israel’s assistant coach, the Mile High Stars are in great hands. Drew Lazar will be serving as a major offensive threat, showing just that by putting up 6 goals in Wyoming. British Columbia-raised lefty Max Abbot also racked up 6 in the exhibition, proving his value to the Stars. Scharaga and Kevin Wiley have both returned to guard the irons providing a stable backstop. In front of them, Rowan Sloss, a defensive star turned transition man, was just named captain and looking sharp for 2017.
It’s hard to predict what the expansion teams will look like when they hit the floor, but they’re not going in without talent and structure. For the Colorado Springs Wolves, the season will be led by Ron Garica, President of Philippines Lacrosse. Garcia put in the work to get things off the ground and picked up Nicola Bevacqua to oversee things as GM and to run on the floor. In the draft they grabbed former Kentucky Stickhorse Taylor Embury and Bevacqua to play key roles in guiding the team.
The Denver Buzz also picked up some experience, nabbing Metro State Denver coach Daniel Hunter to lead their own bench. They showed they have a long way to go, falling in the exhibition, 8-30. Lucky for the Buzz, they’ve had time to load up and get their ducks in a row before the first game. Mitch Larson is now with Denver after a strong first season for the Stars offensively and they should be able to pull some overlooked B players up to stabilize the roster.
The season in Colorado starts for Denver and Colorado Springs on August 26th at 7:00pm. Parker’s first showing is on September 2nd while the Stars will wait until the 9th to get after it.
There’s still a lot of unknowns for Minnesota, but it’s surely started in the right direction. Scharaga can’t say enough about what Manny Chavez, Blaine Lycans GM, has done to bring the RBLL outside of Colorado.
“Manny was a really special part of this. [Minnesota] was the first state we decided to expand to. He made sure that everything’s done as similar as possible to how we did it and he found where players live and where the box fan bases are.”
Plus, Chavez is a goalie, like Scharaga, which he believes is fundamental when founding leagues. Without goalies, you have no solid product. Chavez knew a wealth of guys, racking up three talented goalies, per team, to start with. Mike Nogel, Hastings Walleye GM, Hastings is connected the community, working hard to organize and get everything going.
Ireland’s head coach Tom Howe is taking control of the Walleye to launch it. He’s going to have the aide of longtime NLL veteran and former Swarm assistant Aime Caines on the floor and to learn from. Young American goaltending star Graham Husick is going to back Hastings after stints in the BCJALL and with USA U-19.
Blaine is looking just as healthy for their first crack at it. They were able to grab goal-scorer Nick Midboe first-overall in the draft, but the team is reaching far and wide for talent. Players like Corey Holiday and Denton Jackson are traveling from Nations as far as Nebraska and South Dakota respectively.
Things kickoff when the Walleye visit the Lycans on the hard floor on Saturday, August 19th at 7pm.
When Michael Phillips was approached about planting the RBLL seeds in Oregon, he was in with little hesitation. Once again, Phillips happened to be a goalie, and he was hungry for more organized lacrosse. Goalies know players, one thing led to another, and there’s now two senior men’s lacrosse teams in the Beaver State.
Phillips connected the dots and found Upstate New York native Paul Voas to coach the Beaverton Mountaineers while he helps run things. The Portland Rivermonsters are under the guidance of co-captains, both of which have relocated for the season. Two-time provincial champion Ryan Emery is in from Kamloops, BC, with Jake Morris from Reno, NV, to help shape things.
Players are coming from all over the state and trekking down from Washington to be a part of the first run of the RBLL Oregon. It only takes getting past one team to get a shot at Nationals, why not take a crack at it?
Oregon is the first to get started, starting this Saturday at 7pm in the PDX Sports Center in Portland.
With games starting this weekend in Portland, things are just on the edge of taking off. We will be back every week with an update from all three IBLA states.
You can follow along with any of the games through their excellent stats website, but for $5, we recommend getting up and going to the games yourself. If you’re not in a IBLA market right now, you might be in the near future.