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Shootout benefiting Western lacrosse

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

The Park City Ski Town Shootout is well on its way to becoming the ‘best in the West.’ The noncompetitive tournament, which was held over the weekend hosted 27 youth teams from eight Western States at Ecker Hill International Middle School, is only in its second year and the positive responses continue to grow.

"The feedback has been tremendous," said Utah Lacrosse Association president Mike O’Malley.

According to Tom Summers, Team Utah U-12 head coach, the tournament is a great opportunity for Western teams to see what other states are doing. Colorado has the oldest and most established lacrosse programs, and so their teams serve as a gauge for growth for up-and-coming state programs, such as Utah. For more competitive states, such as California, the tournament tests the team’s skills and talents and serves as warm-up for competitive tournaments.

"One of the points is to give us a benchmark," O’Malley said. "This tournament is all about learning."

The bulk of teams were U-12, U-13 and U-15 boys, although a few girls teams and high school-aged boys teams were present. O’Malley says that he hopes to bring in a larger female contingent over the next few years. He plans to keep the older team exhibition events to inspire the younger athletes.

Team Utah U-17 and U-19 head coach Peter Milburn says that the exhibition games help his players. The shootout occurs one week before the Vail National Tournament held in Colorado, so Milburn sends his teams out to give them a taste of talent from beyond the Utah border.

"When you play our local teams, you are not aware of what the other teams are doing," Milburn said.

Milburn said that his Utah team and the others headed to Vail next week all performed surprisingly well in the weekend tournament, holding their own against tough teams. He was especially pleased that Utah fared well against Colorado teams that don’t have an altitude advantage either this weekend or the next.

"It’s exciting to see how competitive Utah is," Milburn said. "I think we have enough talent. It’s a good start as we head to Vail."

After watching his team at the Ski Town Shootout, Milburn says he’s confident that the Utah boys will be able to keep up with many of the top teams in the West.

NorCal, a team from the San Francisco/Bay Area also used the tournament as a tune-up for Vail.

Lacrosse has been a sanctioned high school sport in California for the last few years. This breeds an extensive youth development program, which primarily uses the summer months for clinics and tournaments.

NorCal assistant coach Sam Greason says that even though the Park City event is non-competitive, their teams appreciate the opportunity to see how other states are playing without the intense pressure of an elite tournament. A week in Park City also allows them to acclimate to high altitudes before traveling to Vail. The NorCal contingent barely lost to the Colorado Select all-star style team, which was exciting to Greason and his staff, but he says their goal is to be on par with East Coast teams. He hopes that one day there will be just as many high school seniors recruited to Division I college lacrosse programs from the West as there are from the East.

Another goal is to develop a competitive Western youth lacrosse circuit in the summer, so teams don’t have to travel East for most of the top tournaments a cost-prohibitive venture.

"We should do tournaments all over the West, and there’s your summer," Greason said. "If you want to reach parity with the East Coast, you have to do what they do."

The Ski Town Shootout is doing its best to show US Lacrosse, the national lacrosse governing body, the direction in which the West would like to head. Almost every western team is headed by a former Division I college player and teaches solid lacrosse skills.

The tournament opened with a sacred ceremony to honor the Native American roots of the game. Some teams, like the NorCal squad even went to so far as to hold their ceremony with a night game played with glow-in-the-dark sticks on the inspiration of head coach Mario Enea and listened to the Native American stories tied to the earliest beginnings the game from assistant coach/shaman Dan Nourse.

Another part of the shootout’s allure comes from the organization of the event. The more established state programs are used to well-run tournaments and O’Malley says that he was overwhelmed with positive comments on the seamlessness of the event. The teams also enjoy the resort-town atmosphere in Park City, easy airport access and the well-placed fields at Ecker Hill. Another highlight included referees from both the local and national ranks.

"They’re getting a really fairly officiated game and a fundamental example of sportsmanship," O’Malley said. "You put all of those ingredients together and you have a really compelling experience for kids, coaches, parents and officials."

Another well-received facet of the tournament was the officials’ clinic with some of the top officials in the sport and a rules clinic held at half time for the parents.

"The parents are thirsty for knowledge," O’Malley said.

The tournament is already panning to return next year with more U-15 teams, teams from Oregon and more female squads.

Information about general lacrosse programs for youth of all ages can be found at http://www.utahlax.org and http://www.uslacrosse.org.


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