Greg Gurenlian New York Lizards MLL Championship 2015
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New York Lizards Claim 2015 Title, Atlanta Blaze Sparks MLL Growth

The announcement of a new local expansion team and a late game rally capped off another exhilarating 2015 Major League Lacrosse season last weekend in Atlanta, Georgia.

There was a lot of lacrosse-based buzz going around greater-Atlanta last weekend. Before we recap the monumental New York Lizards versus the Rochester Rattlers MLL Championship, we must start at the beginning!

Sparking the Atlanta Blaze

Friday’s festivities set the stage for Championship weekend as the MLL announced that their newest team will be taking the field for the 2016 season. The Atlanta Blaze were officially announced at a press conference in Fifth Third Bank Stadium, their future home, on Friday, August 7th.

Commissioner David Gross was joined by Blaze President Kevin O’Leary, members of the Cobb County Sports Alliance, Kennesaw State University and Fifth Third Bank Executives, and many others for this historic event.

The Blaze will hit the field this coming April, but O’Leary doesn’t want it to be just about them. He made it clear in the press conference that next to fielding the team itself, he is equally as excited to be able to be active and give back to the community of which they are a part. He understands the importance of a professional sports team being connected and active within the community it serves.

During the press conference, O’Leary announced that all first-responders will receive free admission to every Blaze home game during the inaugural season. Afterwards, he expressed his excitement for the chance to get involved.

The Blaze announcement is one that has been years in the making. It also comes on the heels of the recent NLL news of the Minnesota Swarm relocation to Atlanta that came earlier this summer, which O’Leary addressed in an exclusive interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle. Fifth Third Bank Stadium, located at Kennesaw State University, has been the location of the past two MLL Championship games, as well as several other NCAA and MLL match-ups.

KSU is located about 30 miles north of Atlanta straight up I-75. Fifth Third Bank Stadium is the home to KSU soccer, a Division I women’s lacrosse team, a brand new football team, and is a concert and entertainment venue. The site has been put to the test for several years to make sure it would be a viable location. If it wasn’t clear after the 2014 Championship game, it is now.

Battle of the Empire State, in Georgia

Fifth-third-Bank-staidum-kennesaw-georgia-mll-championship-game

A near capacity crowd of over 8,600 fans packed the stands of Fifth Third Bank Stadium on Saturday August 8th. Fans and lacrosse enthusiasts alike came from all over to witness the thrilling New York State match-up and the crowning of the 2015 MLL Champions.

The weekend was filled with activities for fans of all ages. LB3 Lacrosse hosted a 7v7 tournament on the campus of KSU prior to the game Saturday and finished up on Sunday afternoon. After the tournament on Saturday, fans were allowed to tailgate in the parking lots surrounding the stadium. Driving in you could see several groups partaking in the festivities all around the venue. A few hours before the big game, fans could enjoy their time checking out the Fan Zone. There, they could meet some of the stars of the MLL, check out the awesome helmets created by Cascade Lacrosse, or test their shot speed at the Rabil Experience by Warrior.

Gates opened an hour before the first face-off. By a bit after 5:30, fans already had the lines at both main gates starting to wrap around the stadium. All the weekends activities, combined with the exciting Friday announcement had lacrosse enthusiast buzzing, and they were not going to let a little Georgia heat detour them from this final showdown. They were ready. And they were not disappointed.

A beautiful southern summer night painted the backdrop for this grand finale. Fans of the Lizards, Rattlers and lacrosse of all kinds came together to enjoy this action packed game. The electricity from the crowd could be felt from the first whistle to the last. Looking up into the stands you could see fans wide-eyed and mesmerized by the play as it went back and forth. For some viewers, they were witnessing their first lacrosse game ever and they were even more intrigued.

From the sideline I could hear some of the fellow cameramen and women mutter things like “wow, just wow” or “that’s crazy” or make remarks about the speed or physicality of the play. They would ask a quick question about the game to the people around before getting sucked right back into the play. Taking a step back and soaking all of this in was an awe-inspiring experience.

After 60 minutes of play, the New York Lizards finished their phenomenal season as the winners of the 2015 Steinfeld Cup with a 15-12 victory! Lacrosse icons Paul Rabil and Rob Pannell both put on a spectacular show in the final. Rabil finished with a hat-trick and 3 assists while Pannell buried 4 goals in the game. Rabil’s leadership rightfully earned him the $1,000 bonus check as the MLL Championship MVP!

 

The Future of Atlanta Lacrosse

Although Atlanta is outside of the “traditional lacrosse hotbed”, there is no doubt that the Blaze will thrive. The location is a perfect venue for fans to take in everything the sport has to offer. And like the Championship game, Blaze games are bound to be the first lacrosse games that many future fans will ever see. But this will only add to the growth and enthusiasm that has taken roots in not only Atlanta, but in portions of the South. A chance to push the “traditional” boundaries.

If you live in the Atlanta area, be sure to reserve your season tickets now! For a $20 per seat deposit you are able to reserve your seats for the inaugural season, a great way to make an easy commitment to your new team! Also be sure to snag your tickets to the 2016 ACC Men’s Lacrosse Championship being help at KSU in the spring. You won’t want to miss either of these historic events!

And thus closes another chapter in Major League Lacrosse history. 15 years of lacrosse, 15 years of continually growing the game. Another outstanding collaboration between the MLL, KSU and the ATL, with many more to come. As Championship Weekend says goodbye to Atlanta, the hunt is on for the 2016 location. Another chance to push the envelope and take the game to new heights.

2015 MLL Championship Gallery