Today, we take a deep look into Slovenia Lacrosse, and what makes this group special. I met these guys for the first time at the 2016 European Championships. The EC is the grandest stage for the elite of Europe’s lacrosse talent. Storied programs like England, Germany and Ireland enjoy experience and proud traditions in their efforts to take home medals. Every year, there are also stories of a different sort. Not of storied tradition, but of beginnings to tradition.
Photos by Oskar Polak, Sniper Pix
It’s always great to see the familiar flags fly over the fields, it’s also great to see the new guys join in the fun. Slovenia was new to the party this year, and when I got to speak with them, the team had already shown great improvement in their first six games. With two remaining, the Solvenians would be hunting their first ever win as a national team. They came their closest to a win when I spent some time with them with a heartbreaking 13-12 loss to Denmark, and I’m of the opinion that the taste for success will inspire these guys to fight even harder in the near future.
Touting a roster of just fifteen is a daunting challenge. With eight full eighty-minute games over ten days, it’s fair to say that the numbers disadvantage is a difficult one to overcome. That said, the reps and experience that each of the fifteen players is getting will prove invaluable in the coming years. Slovenia, as a nation, will benefit immensely from the efforts of these gentlemen.
There is only one club in Slovenia. Olimpia bears the image of a King on their chests, as does the Slovenian national uniform. The king with the three-pointed crown translates into English as King Matthew. The legend as I understand now, is that when King Matthews beard grows around the mountain seven times, he will awaken and come rescue the world from all its problems. I’m hoping he’s nearly there.
The club has 23 members, but only 13 were able to make the trip, with the assistance of 2 non-citizens with Slovenian roots. Slovenia’s first club was started only two years ago with four original members. The men marched through the streets in full kit, offering to let anyone try it out.
Being the only club, the team must travel to play games in local neighboring countries like Serbia, Croatia, and Austria. Olimpia plays in the Austrian league as well, giving the team experience as they try to grow the game organically at home.
The club was only started two years ago, and now participates in the European championships as a sanctioned team. That’s beyond impressive. What has hurt the team is the fact they came without a coach this week. Miha Jankovic serves as a player/coach for the team, but that’s a difficult role, especially for a developing team.
The world has stepped in to help out though. Israel and Slovenia shared a pool for the first stage of the tournament, and instead of just mopping the floor with them, Israel’s coaching staff coached up the Slovenians at half time and eventually swapped benches to give them a helping hand. A member of Israel lacrosse, Ted Bergman, is sticking with the team the remainder of the way in an advisory role as well. Points to Israel for the class move.
A slightly more unorthodox clinic came from down under. No earlier than three-thirty in the morning, the topic of lacrosse came up at the bar between some of the Slovenians and the Danish assistant coaches Brad Smith and Adam Jorredestjorre (Frenchie), who both hail from Western Australia. I’m not sure the context of the conversation, but the Slovenians told me they’re literally trying to get as much instruction as possible from anyone who will offer to help.
One thing led to another, and next thing you know it you’ve got two Australians teaching lacrosse team defense to a handful of Slovenians in a parking lot in Hungary at 3:30am. Read that sentence back again and tell me that’s not friggin’ awesome. Points all around to Denmark/Australia/humanity.
Ted would finish out the tournament with Slovenia. He told me they’re an amazing group of guys, they just have never had actual instruction before. The Slovenians cite all of their knowledge and coaching has come from that good ole YouTube machine.
Olimpia hopes to launch a women’s team within the year, which will undoubtedly bolster men’s participation. Moving forward, Slovenia is hoping an import will come to Slovenia and teach them lacrosse. Work/housing arrangements can be discussed and sorted, but any good hearted human with the desire to travel and help develop the game would be wise to drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve got a big heart for Slovenia after seeing some of their games this past week. It won’t be a medal, but they’re champions all the same in my book.
Photos by Oskar Polak, Sniper Pix