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A European Lacrosse Odyssey
Posted 12/09/2008 04:40PM
A EUROPEAN LACROSSE ODYSSEY
by Matthew Bagley, English Teacher

Few people get to live their dreams, but I'm one lucky guy.

My Mom loves to tell me stories of when I was 7-years-old and would go down to play the junior version of lacrosse called "McWhippet" with the neighborhood kids during my long, summer holidays at our New Hampshire lake house. I would often stay hours afterward to practice throwing, catching and shooting with my flimsy stick as the sun set in the fiery August sky. The sport of lacrosse quickly turned into an obsession that summer, and has remained a mainstay in my life ever since those fateful months over two decades ago.

My lacrosse career began in earnest in seventh grade at the Derryfield School in Manchester, NH under the able tutelage of Coach Doug DeSmit. Six years later, I enthusiastically accepted a bid to play for Ohio Wesleyan's top-rated Division III team. I fondly remember the brutal hours of rigorous practice under Head Coach Leland Rogers (now the assistant coach at 2008 NCAA Division I National Champions Syracuse University), and equal amounts of training and discipline under Head Coach Sean Ryan. All three of my coaches/mentors taught me the most important lesson in this sport: that championships are won through hard work, intelligence and pure grit.

Following a year of semi-professional play in 2004 under Coach Konrad Frankee for the East Torrens Redwings in Adelaide, Australia, I accepted a teaching position at TASIS The American School in England outside of London. My first extracurricular act was to join a club team near Croydon, the Walcountian Blues. Over the next few years of premiership ball, I earned multiple honors with the club, was selected as MVP at two European tournaments (Amsterdam and Madrid) and in 2008, captained the South of England team in the British National Championships to their best finish to date.

This spring, however, I was given an opportunity that I used to dream about on those endless summer days: to play for a national team at an international competition. I was asked by Head Coach Dave Elwood to tryout for the English National Lacrosse team and compete at the 2008 European Championships. The training was incredibly vigorous, including weekend camps at Lee Green in Derbyshire and at Wilmslow Lacrosse Club outside of Manchester, England. We also traveled to La Manga, Spain in preparation for the tournament, where we scrimmaged Princeton University (a six-time NCAA Division I champion). To the surprise of many, we more than held our own, losing by only two goals in the first game, and one goal in the second. Clearly, English lacrosse, introduced to the U.K. in the 19th Century, was not to be taken lightly.

The 35-man training squad was whittled down to 23 in late June, and I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of those to represent England at the European Lacrosse Championship. The team flew to Lahti, Finland on August 6th to compete against the best players across the continent. The tournament, held every 4 years, proved to be Europe's largest ever, with 18 Men's and 10 Women's teams competing for the gold. The two-week competition was divided into a week of general round robin play, followed by single elimination match ups. As defending champions, in round one, England was paired with Switzerland, Ireland, Wales, Latvia and Spain, and on August 7th, the games began.

We opened against newcomers Switzerland, and cruised through the rest of our opposition undefeated, posting an average 26 PPG (points per game) versus our opponents 2 PPG! In the first round of the playoffs, we came up against a tough Finnish team, who kept us to 10 goals, but we managed to sneak by on the back of some solid midfield play. After an impressive 24-3 victory over Sweden in the semi-finals, we met the Netherlands in the championship. Unfortunately, the self-proclaimed "Freaky Deaky" Dutch looked a bit drained from their semi-final upset win over Germany, and didn't put up much of a fight. England dominated early and emerged victorious 14-4 at the final whistle. I'll never forget running onto that field when the final horn sounded, and leaping on my teammates as we celebrated our hard-earned Championship victory!

Now, with the 2010 World Games in Manchester, England fast approaching, the team has set its sights on World Cup glory. My new dream is to be a part of that contest, donning the English colors once again before hanging up my international boots. Even if that doesn't happen though, this summer's Championship in Finland, the pride I experienced representing my adopted country, and my appreciation for all the coaches and teammates who have shared my passion for this sport over the years, equal an experience I will long cherish.


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