Feb 5, 2018

DVS0NieV4AAOt4i.jpg(February 5, 2018)… For the second straight time, the Jr. Knighthawks captured USBOXLA gold on their home turf in the Midget Division. On Sunday afternoon, the ninth and 10th graders shut down Edge Lacrosse in a convincing 10-4 victory at Connors & Ferris Field at The Blue Cross Arena to win the Upstate Winter Shootout.

“I saw a lot of growth out of the guys over the course of the weekend, which is great,” said Jr. Knighthawks head coach Tim Soudan. “You have to pull the reins in a little bit when you are up by a few goals and are pushing every situation, but that’s how we got ahead.”

The run-and-gun Jr. Knighthawks sprinted their way to a 5-2 lead in the first half as they connected for three goals in transition. Casey McDermott set up the first two goals, including Aiden Mackenzie’s tally at 1:04 of the first to give the Jr. Knighthawks a 1-0 lead. 

McDermott finished with three points (1+2), to tie Koleton Marquis (1+2) for the team lead in points in the title game. For Marquis, who hails from Kahnawake, the experience was everything he hoped for during his first tournament with the Jr. Knighthawks.

“It feels awesome,” he said. “I always wanted to play with these guys. It was my first year playing with them and the first time winning gold with them.”

Marquis scored the game’s second goal off a feed from McDermott to give Rochester a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest. After setting up the game’s first two tallies, McDermott buried a breakaway attempt with under five minutes to play in the first half to give Rochester an insurmountable four-goal cushion at 5-1.

Meanwhile, the Jr. Knighthawks’ defense shut down the Edge offense and limited them to 13 shots over the opening 22 minutes. Edge Lacrosse managed just two goals per half as the goaltending tandem of William Dempsey and Gage Stevens stonewalled the crafty Canadian forwards. 

“Gage and Will were unbelievable,” said McDermott. “They were great and stopped a lot of shots. They made some saves I didn’t think they could and helped us out a lot.”

Dempsey got the start in net, making 11 saves in the first half. Stevens went the rest of the way, turning aside 18 Edge shots.

“That says it all,” said Jr. Knighthawks assistant coach Austin Shanks about the save total. “We were playing a Canadian team; they’re going to get their shots. They are great shooters and we had 29 saves. I know Gage had five saves in one setting and then whipped the ball down for a breakaway goal. Those guys really did it all and were great.”

The flurry that Shanks was referring to occurred seven minutes into the second, with the Jr. Knighthawks holding a 7-3 lead. After a series of stops, Stevens launched the ball the length of the floor to a wide open Rioux Johnson, who scored to make it 8-3.

“I was just looking for someone cutting to the net,” said Stevens, who wears the same No. 55 as his NLL counterpart, Angus Goodleaf.

The Jr. Knighthawks’ offense was fueled by two-goal efforts from Mackenzie, Joey Pezzimenti and Kaleb Benedict. The trio were part of a Rochester offense that scored 51 goals in five games. The collection of talent was a healthy mix of players from Kahnawake, Onondaga and from around Rochester.

“It’s funny,” said Soudan. “We have a bunch of fellas who have played a lot of box lacrosse and they’re nifty. Then we’ve got guys who haven’t played a lot that are just so athletic and are able to get a lot of things done like getting us loose balls. It makes coaching the power play a lot easier.” 

The Jr. Knighthawks finished the tournament with a 4-1 record and defeated the likes of 3d Upstate, the Albany Attack, Harvest Lacrosse and Edge Lacrosse. It was the victory over Edge, who are based on Oakville, Ontario, that most impressed Shanks.

“It’s huge when you beat a Canadian team,” said Shanks, who was born in Whitby, Ontario. “That’s even a little bit bigger. They play box their whole lives. When we come to practice on Sundays, we work hard and try to teach them as much as we can. They just came to work and they beat a good Canadian team.”

By winning the Upstate Winter Shootout, the Jr. Knighthawks Midget team won for the second time on their home turf. Last August, the Jr. Knighthawks finished undefeated to capture the Midget Division championship at the Upstate Box Lacrosse Invitational at Bill Gray’s Regional Iceplex. 

It’s that success that will only help the program grow and evolve.

“The more kids we get out, the more successful we are and people want to be involved,” said Soudan. “Most of them speak highly about the program and have had a good experience.”

The proof is evident when you talk to the players.

“After watching the pros play, now wearing the jersey is a privilege,” said Stevens.

“Box is such a fun game to play. (I love) the physicality of it,” said McDermott. “It’s almost comparable to hockey. It’s just a really fun sport if you love playing with contact.”

The Jr. Knighthawks will conclude their winter schedule with a trip to the USBOXLA-sanctioned Midwest Classic, presented by Resolute Lacrosse. The tourney will take place on Saturday, Feb. 17 and Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Resolute Athletic Complex in Columbus, Ohio. At the Midwest Classic, the Jr. Knighthawks will play against some of the best box teams in the United States. 

“There are more things we can prepare for before we head to Ohio, but it was a successful weekend,” said Soudan. “I look forward to our next practice and getting ready for the tournament."

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