Four years ago, when Denver hosted the 2014 World Championships, players from the Philippines and of Filipino descent made their tournament debut as a festival squad. While festival participation provided valuable experience and got the team’s name out there, excitement is brewing amongst this squad, and international lacrosse fans, for the official FIL World Championship debut of the Filipino National Team.
The team will be in great hands for their coming out party on the world stage. Coach Kirk Ventiquattro, a high school coaching legend who spent thirty years building Carthage into a powerhouse and who coached the Powell brothers as high schoolers, leads the team into Netanya after moving on from his tenures high school program following the 2018 season. Ventiquattro provides three decades of knowledge and coaching success to help stabilize the team. As one player described his head coach, “his resume speaks for itself.”
So, too, do the resumes of many of his players for Team Philippines. Mario Ventiquattro, son of Coach Kirk, leads the offense after a strong Ohio State career saw him become a member of the Florida Launch. He’s counterbalanced on defense by former Maryland Terrapin and current New York Lizard Dan Morris in cage, providing a championship pedigree to a defense chomping at the bit to get going in Netanya. Team Philippines also features players from Notre Dame, Dartmouth, and UMBC, as well as MCLA talent. Not many teams making their debut can offer the same level of talent and depth as the Filipino team can, and players see that as a major strength entering the tournament.
Of course, representing one’s home nation for the first time on this sort of stage brings its own challenges, and its own excitement. That proves huge for Filipino born players and Filipino-American players equally.
“My parents and grandparents had to go through so much in order for them to make it to America. To honor their hard work and sacrifices, playing for the Philippines allows me to represent my family in the best way I know how,” said Adrian Macalalad, a Filipino-American midfielder returning from the 2014 squad.
Macalaland, a former star for the Oregon State Beavers in the MCLA and now the coach at Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon, sees more to this opportunity than just a shot at winning.
“Our goal is to always be competitive and play with a first class attitude. But our main goal from when I started with the Philippines Lacrosse Association seven years ago is to grow the game in the Philippines. If we can put a quality product on the field and hold ourselves to a high standard on and off the field, it’s a win for us. Playing for the Philippines gives us a higher cause to play for.”
With tryouts held in both the United States and Manila, Team Philippines represents a wide-ranging group of backgrounds and life stories, but the common theme amongst all the players I talked to was the excitement of officially representing their country for the first time. In doing so, they are achieving one more step along the path to creating something truly special for future generations.
With their eyes firmly on the 2018 tournament, the players and coaches I spoke with still emphasized that the biggest achievement for this team is putting the Philippines on the map for international lacrosse.
With a roster built to battle in the gray division, don’t be surprised if the Philippines overcome their battled-tested Czech and Belgian opponents to really make a splash in Netanya. Regardless of the off-field results, the Philippines Lacrosse Association has already put in a ton of work to achieve a goal the returners have been dreaming of since the festival team in 2014. The rest is all icing on the cake, and these guys have more than earned the right to have their cake and eat it too.