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World Lax Is Over, Now What? ROAD TRIP

Standing on the cliffs of San Francisco Bay a few short weeks ago, overlooking the endless Pacific Ocean, I was at the end of what might have been the perfect “Lacrosse Summer”.

I know lots of coaches and players that get Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) when the regular season ends in the spring, and when all the sunshine, summer camps and tournaments are over. There are no more practices to plan. Your lax tan (or Ref tan) is about as good as it is going to get. Your daily dose of high fives goes way down.

With the World Lacrosse Championships happening right here in Denver, this summer was particularly hard to let go. I couldn’t help but feel a little sad myself.

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What should we do after the World Championships are over?

I had the extreme good fortune to have some free time before the start of Fall Ball, and I had a wedding in California to get to. So I hit the road for two weeks to see some of this great country, joined by my good friend James “Jimmy” Richardson.

Jimmy was the Goalie for the Wales National Team and the team’s MVP from the World Lax tournament this year. Jimmy and I played on the same club team in the UK in 2005.

I was a “Local Development Officer” in Wales from 2005-2007, through the English Lacrosse Association’s development program. It’s a great program if you want to play and coach lacrosse and live abroad after you finish college. I highly recommend it.

Bath lacrosse Brit Abroad
Bath 8’s Lacrosse Tournament 2005 – Bath, England. Jimmy is in the front row 2nd from the left. I am in the front row 2nd from the right.

These guys that play lacrosse in other countries around the world have this incredible opportunity that most of us never will. Jimmy has been on the Wales squad for 3 World Championships and several European Championship Tournaments.

I know one of the Wales Attackmen has been playing in the World Championships since 1998. That’s a 16-year international career!

James "Jimmy" Richardson at the Wales vs Spain scimmage 2014.
James “Jimmy” Richardson at the Wales vs Spain scimmage 2014.

They say “Surround yourself with people that are only going to lift you higher.”

I was lucky enough to play, coach, or ref lacrosse with great people almost every day this summer. I got to coach a summer camp with a former MLL pro that gave up lacrosse for a time after 9/11 to become an Army Ranger in Afghanistan (although you won’t hear his story on ESPN).

I was coaching camp at the University of Denver when all of the international teams were moving into the dorms for the World Games. It was like living in the Olympic Village! Rob Pannell and Head Coach Richie Meade were at breakfast in the cafeteria every day. I had lunch with the Welsh guys and dinner with the Costa Rican players and coaches.

Before the World Games even started, we rounded up some guys from the neighborhood to scrimmage Team Spain. I reffed some games with a guy that worked a summer camp with me 10 years ago, played with some guys that let me crash on their couch at the MCLA National Championship Tournament in LA this spring, played against a team coached by one of the first lacrosse coaches I ever knew from back in Kansas in the 90’s (I only recognized him from his Facebook profile picture!), reffed a former pro player that interviewed me for a high school coaching position in Oregon five or six years ago and one of my co-coaches from when I lived in the UK was coaching Thailand!

We had anxiously awaited the start of this for four years and I was an insider. All my friends were here, I had credentials, and keep in mind I am from Kansas. I am not lacrosse royalty.

This was a dream come true.

The 2014 World Championship was a fantastic tournament. Scotland upset Japan to move into the top group, everyone, regardless of nationality, was an Iroquois fan and more than a few people said Iroquois vs Canada was one of the best games of all time.

Uganda won the crowd’s heart and of course, the Canadian team perfectly executed a tedious yet brilliant game plan (for international rules) that frustrated and eventually took the Gold Medal from Team USA, which some people said was perhaps the best lacrosse team ever assembled.

Disclaimer: I was in Ontario for the 2006 World Games, the last time Canada upset the USA for the Gold Medal.  I will not attend any more World Championship Gold Medal Games. I think I am bad luck.

World Lacrosse Championships 2014 Gold Medal Game- USA vs Canada
World Lacrosse Championships 2014 Gold Medal Game- USA vs Canada

It took Jimmy and me two weeks on the road, but we made it all the way to the California coast.

From Denver, we went North through Jackson Hole, Teton and Yellowstone. Bears were a constant concern everywhere we went.

We got caught in the rain for a few days in Montana. Luckily, some of the coaches at Montana State let us stay with them for a few days in Bozeman. From there we went across the top of Idaho and down through Boise. We were deep in the mountains and the forests which provoked jokes about being filmmakers looking for Bigfoot.

We didn’t have the chance to stop in and say hello at the Lacrosse All Stars headquarters in Boise like we wanted to, but we had an invitation! It came from running into the famous Connor Wilson himself in the parking lot at the World Championship.

I said, “You must be Connor Wilson, aren’t you?” as Connor identified the maker of the traditional wooden stick I was carrying from 50 yards away. True story.

Quint Kessenich will return emails, but this was different. One of the most connected guys in the game hung out at my tailgate.

Catch at Lake Tahoe, CA
Catch at Lake Tahoe, CA

It was an honor to show my traveling partner some of the more awe-inspiring parts of America. We drove and talked about the similarities and differences between the US and the UK, about lacrosse and life. We blew through the Nevada desert at night so Jimmy could see the lights in Reno followed by a little swimming and catch in Lake Tahoe the next morning.

We rolled into Napa right after the earthquake, the damage was so extensive that everything was closed. Apparently the day before, wine had been running through the streets. With not much to see we headed up the road to the Sonoma Coast, playing catch in the rows of vineyards, in the Redwoods, and lost our one good ball in the ocean playing catch on the beach. We had to use an old greaser the rest of the trip.

We spent the few final days in San Francisco with my brother and then that was it – the adventure was over. Over the Golden Gate Bridge one night, Eastbound and down.

No, not really down. Every new year, every new season is a clean slate. I drove 1,300 miles in two days to get back in time for the first practice of the year with my college team. Youth indoor season starts, and Men’s League is back up and running and all my friends will be there. The coaches I ref on Saturday are the players I ref on Sundays.

Jimmy is gone too. He has friends from back home in Wales that are in a band in LA, no big deal. So he headed down the coast when I headed east through the desert. But this isn’t the end of the road, he’s coming back through Denver before he also heads East- to New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

They say lacrosse is a “brotherhood,” and it is just that. We love this game not because the ball goes into the net, but because of the places we go and the people we meet along the way.

There is already talk of the next World Games in Manchester in 2018, or when I can get over to the UK for the European Summer Tournament Circuit from London, Amsterdam, Berlin to Prague, or when I can go back down to work with the Costa Rica team again.

That is what makes this game so special to us. It takes us around the world and provides us with friends when we get there.