Buffalo wins Game 2 15-13 to clinch Back-to-Back Titles; Byrne is Finals MVP

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The National Collegiate Box Series holds its fourth National Championships this weekend, and this year is certainly different. Not only has there been a change of scenery, moving from California to Utica, NY, but the event has the full support of the National Lacrosse League (NLL), the world’s largest and most successful professional lacrosse property.

The NLL and the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA) announced their partnership on July 20 to present the 2023 National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) National Championship.

“The NLL is excited to partner with USBOXLA during the NCBS Championship,” said EVP of Lacrosse Operations, Brian Lemon. “Showcasing the American players in this tournament allows us to collectively grow the reach and relevancy of box lacrosse at the college level and provides a pathway for the predominantly American players in the NCBS to develop their skills and play in the National Lacrosse League.”

The event kicks off Sunday at The Utica University Nexus Center with its largest field ever, as eight teams have traveled to the Mohawk Valley from across the United States. The event will be supported by the San Diego Seals.

“We are so excited about the partnership between the NCBS and the NLL,” said San Diego defenseman and Royals head coach Cam Holding. “The players in our league are some of the most athletic players in college lacrosse, and they are now committing themselves to learning the box lacrosse game all summer long. They are being coached by current and former NLL players. The game is incredibly fast-paced and physical, with players also learning so much more about the box lacrosse IQ.”

“This year’s NCBS Championship is being held at the incredible Nexus Center in Utica, NY, giving our players the spotlight they deserve,” added Holding. “With games being streamed live on the NLL YouTube channel, there is no doubt we will continue to see more players from the NCBS get drafted to NLL teams.”

The Royals (San Diego) of the California Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CACBLL) enter the event as the two-time defending NCBS National Champions. The Ohio Rivermen captured the inaugural event in 2019. This year, teams from Buffalo, Rochester, Connecticut, Columbus, Denver, the DC Area, San Diego and San Jose will compete for college box lacrosse’s ultimate prize.

The National Lacrosse League’s presence at the tournament will be noticeable as NLL referees will work the games, and NLL players and staff will be behind the benches for some of the NCBS’ top teams. The Royals, Hawkeyes and Generals all have ties to the NLL and teams in San Diego, Buffalo, Rochester and Albany.

The Royals and the Hawkeyes both have NLL players coaching their teams. Cam Holding is the head coach of the Royals and joins Seals’ teammates Jake Govett and Wes Berg. Govett played in the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CCBLL) for three years and the CACBLL for the past two, where he won back-to-back titles. However, he now has a new vantage point at the 2023 event as he joins the coaching staff.

“I have been in this league for about five years now. It’s great seeing it grow; seeing it from the other end has been fun,” he said. “I am giving back and coaching. Giving out my expertise to these guys has been great.”

“There are a lot of great players and coaches in this league. A lot of people are invested. One thing we have is great athletes,” added Govett. “I am helping guys learn a different game. It’s fun to see a change and see them click once we get into the tournament.”

The Hawkeyes of the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (UCBLL) have NLL players Dan Coates and Ryland Rees on their coaching staff. They are joined by Knighthawks equipment manager and UCBLL coach Brenden Dobbins.

Coates, who has also coached in the UCBLL for three seasons, sees the importance of the NCBS to provide American players with a pathway to the pros.

“As this game continues to grow and you see more Americans in the NLL, it’s huge (to have an event like this). It’s a great stage for our players and coaches to go and learn and see what’s out there. You have guys looking to get drafted from these teams. I am sure there will be some eyes watching them. It will be an unreal experience for them.”

Former Colorado Mammoth standout Jamie Shewchuk and current Mammoth defenseman Warren Jeffrey are coaching the Red Hawks of the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CCBLL). 

Oliver Marti, who coaches and is the CT Collegiate Box Lacrosse League Commissioner (CTCBLL), has a unique perspective as he also owns the Albany Firewolves. The longtime supporter of American box lacrosse was thrilled with the partnership with the NLL.

“It’s exciting to see box lacrosse in the US grow at this level,” he said. “I applaud the NLL for their effort to highlight this year’s NCBS National Championship and provide a venue to allow these players to show off their talent and potentially catch the eye of NLL scouts.”

Last year saw a record eight players with NCBS ties taken in the NLL Entry Draft. Last season, five NCBS alums also played in the NLL: Jack Hannah (Las Vegas), Mac O’Keefe (San Diego), Trevor Baptiste (Philadelphia), Jake Govett (San Diego) and Hunter Lemieux (Philadelphia).

Lemieux used the UCBLL and NCBS National Championship to improve his draft stock. In 2021, when COVID had canceled other leagues throughout the United States and Canada, the league in upstate New York allowed him to play lacrosse.

At Nationals, the overpowering 6-2, 215-pound forward scored 11 goals and added five assists in five games for the Armory. A few weeks later, the Philadelphia Wings selected him with the 15th overall selection in the NLL Entry Draft.

“I enjoyed my time in the UCBLL,” said Lemieux. “To be able to play during COVID and gain exposure prior to the draft was crucial as I wouldn’t have had the opportunity otherwise. Although we fell short in the championship game, we had a great run. It was fun to be a part of it.”

The hallways of the Nexus Center will be buzzing with NLL coaches, scouts, and general managers as they look for potential players before the NLL Entry Draft. One of those GMs is Dan Carey of the Rochester Knighthawks. Last year, Carey selected a homegrown talent as he drafted Spencer Bell of the Hawkeyes. Recently, he made a deal that helped Rochester acquire Lemieux from Philadelphia.

“The talent level of the UCBLL has continued to impress me, and it provides us a great opportunity to watch players expand their box lacrosse experience,” said Carey. “The development of these players has been fun to watch.”

Steve Dietrich of the defending champion Buffalo Bandits, who also scouts the UCBLL, will be keeping tabs on the NCBS. Last year, he picked three players from the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League, a league operated by the Bandits and Knighthawks.

“The NCBS is very important for us because it not only allows us to watch up-and-coming American players playing indoor lacrosse, but it also shows us that they have the desire and commitment to play in the National Lacrosse League,” he said.

The players will also get additional exposure online as all the games will be professionally produced and broadcast via the NLL YouTube Channel (www.youtube.com/user/NLL/videos).

The broadcast team is a who’s who of lacrosse talent, with Cooper Perkins (San Diego Seals), Tyson Geick (New York Riptide), and Pat Gregoire (Halifax Thunderbirds) calling all the action. Geick and Gregoire are both Tom Borrelli Award winners, which is given to the National Lacrosse League’s media person of the year for outstanding coverage.

Gregoire, who also does color commentary for the TSN NLL Game of the Week and the NLL Finals, realizes the importance the broadcasts will have on growing the game and exposing audiences to the American-born box players. It’s an event you won’t want to miss.

“Having the National Lacrosse League partner with NCBS Nationals is monumental for US Box Lacrosse development and the future of the tremendous young athletes playing in Utica this weekend,” said Gregoire. “General Managers and scouts across the league now have access to live streaming the game and archived game film to help these American players have more access than ever before. GMs would be doing a disservice to their franchises if they weren’t scouting the NCBS Nationals for their potential next American-born box lacrosse star like Tom Schreiber, Jack Hannah, or Trevor Baptiste.”