Editor’s Note: 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championship intern Connor Watson joins LaxAllStars.com to help tell the stories of lacrosse game growers around the world that deserve to be told. This time, Connor is covering the three teams he considers “off the radar” but ready to make an big splash!
With more than 40 countries playing in the 2018 World Championships with plenty of newbies throwing their hats in the ring, there’s ton of talent hidden away on non-traditional rosters. There are a few fresh faces to the tournament that are in Israel to make an impact and aim to move up in the international lacrosse world. These teams could get overlooked and spend some time as underdogs, but they’re not to be taken lightly. Here’s three teams that should not be slept on:
Puerto Rico is new to the World Championships and can be considered inexperienced for that reason only. But if you look at the team’s roster, it has plenty of experienced talent that can make Puerto Rico a potential powerhouse.
Ohio State alum defender Ricky Pages shared the team’s defensive MVP accolades in 2006 and 2007 and was an All-Great Western Lacrosse League First Team selection in 2007. In his four years in Columbus, Pages scored eight goals, added two assist and picked up 135 ground balls. He will be the rock for Puerto Rico in the back. LSM Devin Cruz, who played at Belmont Abbey College, was named to the 2016 UILSA/Nike Division-II All-America Second Team and finished that season with 81 ground balls and 54 caused turnovers. Attackman and former Hofstra player Lance Yapor scored 37 goals and dished 20 assists in his three years in college. This is only a small sample of the caliber of players Puerto Rico will throw at opponents this July making this team dangerous for a deep run.
Latvia finished third in its division at the 2014 World Championships, falling short to Switzerland and Scotland, and ended the tournament in 19th place out of 38 teams. This time around, the team is pitted against newcomer Greece and Mexico, who placed 23rd four years ago in Denver, a much more favorable draw for the Latvians than in 2014.
To take advantage of this luck, Latvia is going to need players like attackman Christopher Zarins to step up. Zarins notched 70 goals and 41 assists in his 58 games at Siena from 2006-2009. Four years ago in Denver, he posted 23 goals and 18 assists in a Latvia shirt, and the same production will be needed out of him in 2018. Midfielder Gatis Zeps also put up a big statline in 2014 with 14 goals and eight assists that will need to be replicated again. If these players can get hot under the Netanya sun, Latvia could make a run.
Hong Kong finished second in the Red Division in 2014 behind Germany, finishing the tournament in 21st place. This time, the team will play in the Olive Division in what will likely be a tight race for the top spot with Poland, with Luxembourg and Uganda attempting to overtake the favorites. Hong Kong will be without a few of the key pieces it had in Denver with only six players from that team returning for these Championships, but there’s plenty of skill on the roster that could make up for the lost production. With plenty of the talent on this squad, they’re setting themselves up to make a run at the top of the Asian lacrosse world.
Hong Kong finished third at the 2017 Asia-Pacific Championships in Seogwipo, South Korea, a huge improvement from its last-place result in the 2013 edition of the continental championship the summer before the 2014 World Championships. This program has grown a tremendous amount, and while it’s still solidly behind Australia and Japan in the Asia-Pacific pecking order, it has separated itself from the rest of the pack and turned into a legitimate contender to cause some damage at these World Championships.