Friday July 9, 2010

MANCHESTER -- Less than a week after the world's biggest sporting event wraps up in South Africa, a local All-Star lacrosse team will travel across the Atlantic Ocean to play against the best competition on Earth in its own World Cup.

Team Vermont, a U-16 team made up of the state's best underclassmen, will travel to Manchester, England Friday to vie for a title in the 2010 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship Festival.

"This team was put together in November, as I called a good majority of high school lacrosse coaches throughout the state and asked if any of their top sophomores would be interested in playing at the World Championships," Team Vermont head coach Don Benasich said. "I set out the parameters, and we got a group of talented players put together. We're not going over there to just play games, we going over there to win."

The Green Mountain Boys' - as they'll be referred to in England - roster consists of three players from Mount Anthony Union High School, four from Burr and Burton Academy, five from Rutland and a mixture of Middlebury, South Burlington, Burlington and Hartford players.

Patriots making the trip to England include attackman Dan Lawson, midfielder Trevor Farrall and defenseman Alex Cross, while goalie Gabe Mayerson, middies Jake Coyle and Kyle Mackenzie and attackman Max Johnson are the Bulldogs on the Team Vermont roster.

"These guys are really committed to the goal of playing well in the tournament and have been working hard together with strength training combined with speed and agility drills throughout the winter," Benasich said. "Even beyond that, these guys are driving to Manchester - from as far as Burlington and Bennington - for two practices a week to improve as a team before we head over."

Despite throwing weights around together, the select team has only been practicing together as a unit for a couple of weeks because the high school season had to end before formal on-field practices could be organized.

Since opening practice, Team Vermont found success and cohesion in a game against another All-Star squad from Northern Vermont, while also turning in a strong performace playing up a level in a tournament at Bryant University in Rhode Island. The Green Mountain boys dispatched its opponent from the North 20-3 and went 2-2 in the Bryant Tournament against U-17 competition.

"It was good to work together as a team for the first time against some tougher competition," Lawson said. "And that's the goal with all of this build up and practice, to be peaking or playing our best lacrosse in England."

Beyond the split, Team Vermont gained world-class expertise while in Rhode Island from current Bryant University and Team USA head coach Mike Pressler and national team midfielder Matt Zash in a two-hour practice session.

"I called Mike and simply explained that we're going over to England for the World Championships the same time they would be and asked if he'd be willing to work with us for a bit," Benasich said. "He said he'd love to do it and it all worked out better than I could have ever expected. Mike and Matt came out and gave the boys some of the best instruction they'll ever get, and even taught a couple of plays we've incorporated."

Team Vermont will be competing in the youngest division at the Festival, as the U.S. National Team will be playing for a World Championship on the biggest stage right along with the boys from the Green Mountain State.

"I'm really looking forward to traveling across the pond, as they say, to play against some of the best competition in the world," Cross said. "It's not every day you meet someone famous, so meeting and working with Coach [Pressler] and Matt was amazing. It was unreal to see how those guys see the field and read the play, it was definitely a great learning experience for this team.

"It's fun and rewarding to play alongside some of the best players in the state, and will be the opportunity of a lifetime to play against some of the best players in the world."

Team Vermont leaves for the tournament next Friday before arriving on Saturday morning to relax and shake out the jet lag while enjoying top-notch lacrosse, as the U.S. National team takes on rival Canada in the evening.

Benasich's team opens play the next day and is guaranteed at least four round-robin games in the tournament before the teams are reseeded for playoffs. Team Vermont will also play against club lacrosse teams from the local Manchester, England area, as well as, participate in a clinic that will teach kids from the area how to play the growing game.

"I've never been to Europe, so that alone will be cool," Johnson said. "Overall, it should be a great experience, but already it's been great to work with Pressler, who obviously knows what he's talking about. Coach [Pressler] and Matt Zash definitely helped us out for the tournament with some tips and a couple of plays that we've worked into the mix."

The Green Mountain Boys are hoping the world-class tutelage and hard work will pay off against the world's best on the grandest stage.