Local boys to compete in Denver tournament
Ten players from Burr and Burton Academy and one each from Mount Anthony Union High School and Cambridge Central School will travel to Denver, Colo., to compete with the Manchester-based Vermont Black Bears in the U17 division at the FIL World Lacrosse Championships.
Former BBA boys coach Don Benasich leads the 22-man squad, with assistants Geoff Hoffer, a Cambridge coach, and David Sands, the president of Equinox youth lacrosse.
To find players, Benasich sent out letters to area coaches and teams, trying to keep it to southern Vermont and eastern New York.
"Some played varsity, others were on JV, but it's great experience," Benasich said. "The team has really bonded and is working very hard to be ready."
Local players include Murray Senecal, Nikolai Sands, Chris Kornaros, Tom Morgantini, Jimmy Lomuscio, Sean Apps, Connor Simonds, Billy Gormley, Graham Peckel and Tom Grabher from Burr and Burton; Cambridge's Matt Hoffer and Mount Anthony's Jacob Rantilla.
Other players from outside the area include Michael Brandow, Hayden Stalter, Ryan Saunders, Connor Lawlor, Jordan Walkins, Adam Owens and Kiernan Stigner from Greenwich, Anthony Tebbano and Dakota Rainville from Shenendehowa and Zach Pierce from Schuylerville.
"We've been played since the fall, with a break during the school season," Benasich said. "We finalized the team about a month ago. The furthest travel is from Clifton Park (N.Y.), so it's a tighter knit group."
The U17 division includes 36 teams and the Black Bears will play three games - each three hours apart - on July 10 against two teams from Colorado and one from Minnesota.
"The 3D team [a select team from Colorado] is one of the strongest teams in the field," Benasich said. "Of course, we're trying to win, but it's great experience for the young players."
A twist will be playing in Denver, a mile above sea level, and the thin air of the Rockies.
"They've been working on their conditioning, running three or four miles a day. They bring a seriousness to practice and they're playing well as a team," Benasich said.
The Black Bears, which Benasich started four years ago, are heading to the championships for the second time and hope that 2014 is as successful as 2010, where the U16 team beat England to win a bronze medal.
"Last fall was the last time we played games," Benasich said. "These kids just love playing lacrosse and they're trying to get it tournament shape." The defense is led by Sands, Senecal and Kornaros, with Gormley as the defensive middie.
Tebbano holds down the fort in between the pipes, while Rainville, Saunders, Apps, Lawlor, Owens, Walkins and Rantilla patrol the midfield.
"It was nice they opened it up to everyone," said MAU coach Paul Reif. "Jake really wanted to do it. The [Games] are a phenomenal tournament." Rantilla will be the third MAU player, after Dan Lawson and Alex Cross, to play in the tournament.
"It's great exposure for every kid that goes - lots of coaches and fans from different countries - whenever you play great competition, it bumps your lacrosse IQ up a notch."
Attackers include Stalter, Pierce and Morgantini - one of the top scorers for the Bulldogs in this championship season.
The tournament, which includes teams from U11 to senior level, is a chance for younger players to show what they can do for college level coaches - a priceless chance that can pay off later on.
"It's an opportunity for the kids to stand out and to watch the best players in the world," Benasich said.
The team will travel to Saratoga Springs this weekend for a tournament as a primer to the championships, then head to Colorado to face the best U17 lacrosse players in the country.
"It's the memory of a lifetime. It's a worldly experience," Benasich said.
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