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Stories/Op-Ed

Navigating Box Lacrosse: The Lay of the Land

NLL, ALL, IBLA, NCBS, OLA, WLA, MSL… the list could go on and on from the pinnacle of the sport with the National Lacrosse League to numerous other professional, semi-professional, and club leagues that offer a challenge to both seasoned box lacrosse players and players looking to learn. 

Lacrosse is the fastest-growing team sport in the United States. Lacrosse takes the power of football, the speed, and toughness of hockey and blends it with the finesse and movement of basketball. This combination of attributes makes box lacrosse one of the most dynamic and fun sports to participate in and spectate.  

Since the inception of my lacrosse career in 2014, I was fortunate enough to win the 2014 Senior B President’s Cup with the Onondaga Redhawks, play 4 years in the National Lacrosse League, win the Arena Lacrosse League (ALL) 2019 Championship with the St. Catharine Shockwave, and a 2020 National Championship with the Philadelphia Phunk in the Interstate Box Lacrosse Association (IBLA). Each and every league offering intense competition, camaraderie, and everything you’d expect box lacrosse to offer. The main differentiating factor from league to league being the IQ and speed of the game. 

A majority of the top National Lacrosse League players like Shawn Evans, Mitch Jones, Kyle Buchanan, and Nick Rose can be found north of the border competing for the Senior A Mann Cup during the NLL off-season. One of the oldest box lacrosse championships in the history of lacrosse, the hunt for the Mann Cup has been taking place since 1910. Teams in the Senior A Major Series Lacrosse (MSL) and Western Lacrosse Association (WLA) are usually jam-packed with NLL talent. Games are fast and the lacrosse IQ is extremely high. Several of the National Lacrosse Leagues’ very own coaches and general managers take on roles with summer box clubs, sometimes coaching and competing against the same players throughout the year. The top teams in both the WLA and the MSL look like NLL all-star teams, with the top players from each NLL division finding a summer home in Peterborough or Six Nations on the east coast, and Victoria, Langley, or New Westminster on the west coast. 

Mann Cup action

Not as fast as the NLL or Senior A Box Lacrosse, the Arena Lacrosse League (ALL) finds itself as a development league for the NLL, mirroring the NLL season through the winter months and partnering with the league in 2018. The ALL has become a go-to league for General Managers and Coaches looking to fill injured shoes, create some movement on their rosters or give players on the cusp of the NLL roster playing experience. Each team has a spectrum of players from savvy NLL veterans like Chad Culp to players in their prime who any given weekend can be playing on the NLL stage like Brooker Muir and Chase Martin. Each team also has those young developing box players, who will make the move to the NLL once they are out of college or of age. A few of these athletes like Luke Pilcher, an RIT attackman, will certainly have NLL defenders with their hands full in due time. More often than not, the Arena Lacrosse League is primarily home to the developing players with their eyes set on making an NLL roster in a few years. The level of competition in the Arena Lacrosse League is high, with a solid mix of NLL veterans and young developing athletes. The ALL is becoming a go-to resource for general managers and coaches of the NLL for new talent. 

Arena Lacrosse League

As the NLL continues to expand the opportunity for other leagues to grow happens simultaneously. The demand and rapid growth of box lacrosse have helped to form organizations like USBOXLA. USBOXLA has created an excellent foundation to help support the growth of box lacrosse from player development, game development, referee development, and coach development. From the peewee level through the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) and the international team, USBOXLA is ensuring the proper growth of the game through education and experience for their players, coaches, and referees. USBOXLA action continues throughout the year with several large tournaments coming through the spring with the NCBS. Players like Trevor Baptiste, a phenomenal field face-off man, first gained box lacrosse experience in the CCBLL. Trevor is now a valuable asset to the Philadelphia Wings. Other players like Troy Loper, Jake Govett, and Jack Hannah gained valuable experience playing in the collegiate series. With the expansion of box lacrosse the CCBLL is providing a solution for the demand, recently expanding to Upstate New York, Colorado, Ohio, Connecticut, and hopefully San Diego.

National Collegiate Box Series

Since 2014, the Onondaga Redhawks of the Can-Am have been my summer box team. The Can-Am lacrosse league operates as a member of the Canadian Lacrosse Association or CLA. The Can-Am league consists of eight different teams spanning throughout the state of New York. Seven of the teams are Indigenously owned and operated, with the exception of the Rochester River Monsters. The Can-Am Lacrosse League has been home to some of the world’s top professional lacrosse players from the likes of Brett Bucktooth, Zed Williams, and Lyle Thompson. You can find world-class athletes competing throughout the summers in Upstate New York. The Senior B Can-Am League has been some of the most physical lacrosse I’ve played, and the lacrosse IQ is usually very high each game. The President’s Cup is the tournament that crowns the best Senior B lacrosse team in North America; in order to win gold, you typically have to play nine full box lacrosse games in seven days. The President’s Cup was the most difficult tournament to play, let alone win, that I’ve ever participated in.  

Here is my POV of the President’s Cup

South of the border, the Interstate Box Lacrosse Association (IBLA) is spreading like wildfire. From California to Maine and Oregon to Florida, box lacrosse is being played every weekend from April to September, crowning a National Champion in late September. The Philadelphia Phunk won the 2020 National Championship in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania playing some very good teams from Maine, Minnesota, and Grand Rapids. The IBLA is a fast-growing league with teams sprouting up wherever you can imagine. This certainly makes for an exciting box lacrosse landscape and shows the popularity of box lacrosse throughout the states. With the rapid growth, there is a broad spectrum of athletes on each team. More established teams have NLL veterans, box lacrosse veterans, and college lacrosse players while other teams may be entirely new to the sport. The vast mix of players’ skill and experience is what makes the IBLA extremely unique. In one game you can have a matchup against NLL veteran Corbyn Tao and be shooting on New York Riptide Goaltender Gowah Abrams, and in another game, you’re defending someone trying to ‘dodge down the alley’ in their first-ever box lacrosse experience.

Here is the IBLA National Championship from my POV

Although lacrosse has been one of the earliest games played in North America, just recently box lacrosse participation has been growing faster than the leagues can support it. With the NLL leading the charge, expanding to Fort-Worth in 2020, the IBLA has expanded to numerous cities in 2021, where players look to compete for the championship in Tampa Bay, Florida. While other well-established leagues like the MSL, WLA, and ALL look to get a grasp on what the future of Box Lacrosse looks like in their respective leagues, one thing is for certain – there is no lack of talent or desire to play. The NLL works with most of these leagues to try and establish consistent rules to play by, making the transition for players from one league to another seamless. The consistency, education, and experience offered by these leagues that follow the NLL’s standards contribute to the growth and development of referees and coaches, as well. NLL referee Justin Kitashima gained valuable experience and was developed in the CCBLL.  

With the NLL setting the standard for box lacrosse and working collectively with various leagues, the growth of box lacrosse will benefit as a whole. Athletes of all ages can now access the various aforementioned leagues and gain experience playing the fastest sport on two feet.  

Learn more about each league or if there is a team in your area to play:

Can-AM

CLA

IBLA

MSL

USBOXLA

WLA

NLL