MANCHESTER -- By all accounts, the Vermont Black Bears' trip to Denver, Colo. to compete in the U17 division of the FIL World Lacrosse Championships was an unparalled experience.
The Black Bears went to the Championships four years ago when the Games were held in England. This time around, there was a different feel to the tournament, according to coach Don Benasich.
"This was a totally different experience. This was magnified by 100 percent compared to [the] World Games. At this tournament, there were probably 38 nations compared to 16 in England going to this tournament," said Benasich. "In our division, we had 36 teams in the U17."
The number of nations competing made an impression on BBA defenseman Murray Senecal.
"It was pretty mind blowing to see all these countries playing together; playing the game," he said "It was just really cool. It was something I hadn't experienced before. It really opened my eyes to how the sport has grown so much since I started playing it."
The trip was also a unique experience for Conor Simonds -- the youngest member of the team.
"I was the youngest kid on the team and I was the only eighth grader and I felt pretty honored to be [there]," said Simonds. "It was a really good experience. I enjoyed it. It was fun to be with all the nations playing at a level that was higher than I get to play around here."
In the opening round of the tournament, the Black Bears beat the Rocky Mountain Rattlers, 4-1.
"The boys got so much experience from that game playing at that level. Again, they never saw [the game] at that level before and that really raised the level of lacrosse and their lacrosse IQ tremendously," he said. "It wasn't so much about the wins and losses in this tournament. It was about the experience these young men got."
Following the loss, the Black Bears made a statement in their next game with a 16-3 win over the Minnesota Chill. That game helped the team come together, but Benasich said it was not the only thing that helped the team gain a greater sense of unity.
"The U.S. played Canada. That was a fabulous game. The boys really enjoyed that. The U.S. beat Canada [in] the opening game for the first game of the World Games and what was nice about the evening was they really jelled as a team watching the game together," said Benasich.
Following a pair of 6-3 losses to the California Jacks and Team Colorado -- a win in the latter of which would have put them into the quarter-finals -- the Black Bears defeated the Minnesota Chill again, 6-0, in a consolation game.
From their performance on the field, three Burr and Burton players -- Chris Kornaros, Nikolai Sands and Senecal -- were approached by a scout for the 3D team about the possibility of playing for them next year.
In addition to the possible opportunities it created, Benasich and some of the players felt the experience they gained will only help improve their game going forward.
Due to his experience at the tournament, Sands indicated that he has gained a greater sense of confidence going into next season at BBA.
"Having played against those kids is going to help me," said Sands. "It's going to seem pretty easy coming in next season after playing against those kids."
Senecal expressed similar sentiments.
"We played the 3D Colorado team and the way that they moved the ball, like the speed that they were able to move the ball around and how they played as a team the way that they were able to be successful on the field, it was a lot different from the way people play over here," said Senecal. "I took a lot away from that team just in the way the defense moves around and how the defense communicated and it's going to really help me out when I play for Burr and Burton this upcoming spring."