KNIGHTHAWKS CONTINUING TO GROW BOX LACROSSEFeb 13, 2018
By Craig Rybczynski -- For one Sunday in February, hundreds of youth lacrosse players were able to live out their dream of playing at Connors & Ferris Field at The Blue Cross Arena. For the 14 and 15-year-olds on the Jr. Knighthawks Midget team it also meant duplicating a feat achieved twice by their National Lacrosse League counterparts – winning a championship on their home turf.
“It feels awesome,” said forward Koleton Marquis. “I always wanted to play with these guys. It was my first year playing with them and the first time winning gold with them.”
The inaugural Upstate Winter Shootout was a resounding success with 20 teams competing at two sites and at three age levels from Feb. 3-4. The sold-out USBOXLA-sanctioned event featured teams from throughout New York, Philadelphia, and two organizations from Canada: Brampton and Edge Lacrosse.
“Getting teams from Canada and some other quality clubs really helped bolster the competition for the tournament,” said Knighthawks academy director Brad Gillies. “I have heard nothing but positive comments from people; I look forward to growing on that success.”
It was just a year ago that the Jr. Knighthawks were calling players to try out for their teams. Now, the PeeWee, Bantam and Midget level teams are holding tryouts that have included upwards of 90 kids. The Jr. Knighthawks have also hosted two tournaments and will play in the prestigious USBOXLA-sanctioned Midwest Classic on Saturday, Feb. 17 and Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Resolute Athletic Complex in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Joyce, WNY Lax)
Growing the game of lacrosse has been the focus of Knighthawks Owner and General Manager Curt Styres ever since he purchased the franchise back in 2008. Creating winter training programs and hosting tournaments has helped the Jr. Knighthawks make great strides in attracting top-tier players and coaches.
“One of the core values of the Knighthawks organization is focusing on growing the game of box lacrosse through the creation and management of top-level training programs, along with opportunities to showcase that training,” said Knighthawks Executive VP of Business Operations Nate Snyder. “The tournament fully captures all of the hard work and dedication to achieving this mission.”
With a strong foundation established by Knighthawks transition man Brad Gillies and Knighthawks alum Luke Laszkiewicz, the team pumped additional resources into the program after seeing quick results last season with the hosting of their first-ever tournament and a strong showing at the Jr. NLL Tournament.
This year, the Jr. Knighthawks bolstered their coaching staff with the hiring of lacrosse legend and Knighthawks Hall of Famer Tim Soudan. The organization also brought in Ohio State University products and first-round draft picks Austin Shanks, Jake Withers and Eric Fannell to serve as coaches.
“The expertise that they bring to the training, partnered with the passion to teach young athletes the game, is unmatched in our area,” said Snyder. “I am incredibly proud of the work this group of players, led by Brad Gillies, has done and all they have achieved in such a short amount of time. Their influence on the game will be recognized across our region as they continue to improve players in our area.”
For the Upstate Winter Shootout, the Knighthawks received so much interest that they hosted games at the Tri-County Sports Complex in Macedon, NY, and at The Blue Cross Arena (BCA). On Feb. 4, the Midget teams played at the BCA, where the Jr. Knighthawks captured the gold in a convincing win over highly-touted Edge Lacrosse. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Joyce, WNY Lax)
After the game, goalie Gage Stevens summed up the mood in the room when he said what he enjoyed the most about playing for the Jr. Knighthawks, “Wearing the jersey.”
The Midget team finished the tournament with a 4-1 record and won their second title in six months. After weeks of coaching and working with the Jr. Knighthawks, Shanks finally got behind the bench and watched his team celebrate a championship.
“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “They came to play today and deserved the win.”
Soudan, who played for 15 years in the NLL, served as the head coach of the Midget team. Jr. Knighthawks rookie Koleton Marquis was thrilled to win the tournament and equally as excited to play for someone like Soudan.
“He is a nice guy and a really good coach,” he said, “and he played for the Knighthawks.”
The Bantam team completed the weekend with a 2-2 record as they recorded victories over Harvest Lacrosse and 3d Upstate. The PeeWee side played four hard-fought games against a pair of Canadian teams, as well as Penn*Lax Rise and the Albany Attack.
“Events like this help grow box lacrosse in Rochester,” said Jr. Knighthawks PeeWee head coach Luke Laszkiewicz. “We have a lot of local talent on our team. With this tournament, we had a lot of Canadian teams, so the level of the play varied. The most important thing was the kids learned a lot and had a great time.”
The chance to play in front of his family made this winter tournament a success for Jr. Knighthawks veteran Connor Gorton.
“It’s pretty fun,” he said. “I just like coming out and playing box lacrosse with my friends.”