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U.S Women’s Lacrosse: Hamburg a nice stop for national team

Danielle Etrasco of the U.S. Women’s National lacrosse team shows young participants at a players clinic Tuesday (July 10) at Hamburg High School how to dodge and elude a defender. The national team visited Western New York for a few days to conduct layers and coaches clinics and play an exhibition game before heading to a tournament in Canada. Etrasco, a native of Massapequa, N.Y., is one of only three current college players on the 24-player roster. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)
The U.S. women’s national lacrosse team’s visit to Hamburg on Tuesday (July 10) wasn’t just a convenient stop on the way to a tournament in Canada, it was also an opportunity for a community to embrace a game it’s already quite fond of and many of its youngsters and coaches to learn from and watch the best this country has to offer in the sport.

Western New York, more specifically Hamburg High School’s Howe Field for a day, became the final stop for the 2012 U.S. Lacrosse’s national team before it will play in the 2012 North American Challenge Cup in Oshawa, which will also be the site of next year’s Women’s Lacrosse World Cup. The community was able to take full advantage of the visit as the nation’s elite hosted players and coaches clinics before playing in an exhibition game open to the public.

“I think it goes above and beyond just getting an autograph from a USA player; they’re really getting great instruction and we’re really proud of being able to provide that,” said Danielle Spencer, a product of Rochester lacrosse power Brighton High School, who now coaches at Northwestern University, where she once played and graduated from in 2010.

A packed field of youth players split into grades one through eight and nine through 12 took instruction from 24 of the nation’s finest lacrosse players. Participants visited a variety of learning stations where they were given instruction and shown techniques in anything from stick handling, passing and shooting to dodging, defending and picking up ground balls.

U.S. netminder Megan Huether, a former star at Duke, even took the goalies aside to run a clinic. Spencer and Huether are just a few of many national players who are now also high-level coaches.

Besides the obvious contingent of Hamburg born participants, the clinic brought many youngsters wearing a variety of school and club team practice jerseys.

“It’s great that they were able to stop here,” said Hamburg senior-to-be Taylor Wolf, who was one of the Bulldogs’ top scorers during a sectional-title winning season for the program. “I’m learning a ton. They’re giving us so many different opportunities. Some of the stuff being focused on we’ve learned but they’re helping make us better at it.”

Wolf, along with her sophomore teammate and friend, Jill Ford, were also learning some fun aspects of the game like the behind the back pass and shot.

“It’s a great opportunity and you find out there’s a lot of stuff out there to learn,” said Ford, an up-and-coming scorer for Hamburg’s varsity squad. “Their attitudes are so great. They’re so hyped up to be here and are getting us to enjoy ourselves as we learn.”

In the outfield of the baseball diamond next door, U.S. head coach Ricky Fried and his impeccable staff of experienced coaches from throughout the collegiate and national ranks provided insight into what it’s like to head a national team.

Along with explaining team philosophies, chemistry and building and the finer points of play and fitness, Fried shared some of the secrets of the trade with the group of men and women, who ran the gamut from middle to high school coaches.

“We’re trying to make sure to spread the knowledge we have and help people teach the game in a certain way,” Fried said. “We talked about at the beginning that no questions were out of bounds because there’s really nothing that’s a secret or private. Most coaches are borrowing, stealing or tweaking from other sports and other teams. We want to present them with everything we do so they can take it to their level and tweak it to whatever makes it successful for them.”

Fried and company were impressed with the venue at Hamburg, which Nichols Schools lacrosse coach Beth Stone suggested after consulting with Hamburg’s athletics director Greg Witman and lacrosse supporters Katy Ryan, the Bulldogs girls lacrosse coach, and her father, Tom.

The school and community continued to reap the benefits of reconstructing Howe Field with a turf field, lights and new stands, a project that was just being completed around this time three years ago. It also didn’t hurt that the beautiful 80 degree and sunny weather was a welcome change from the oppressive heat felt throughout the country at the start of the summer.

“It’s a great facility and it’s nice to be close to where we’re going to be for the tournament…and be comfortable with the lay of the land,” said Fried, whose team travels to three tournaments a year and likes to conduct clinics along the way at not only the hotbeds for the sport but also at the grass roots level.

Spencer said when she thinks of Hamburg, she thinks of the team that her Section V power would likely have to go up against in the Far West Regional to advance to the state tournament. She’s also friends with Ryan, who starred at Hamburg around the same time, before also moving on to play Division I lacrosse, at the University of Connecticut. The two also played together on the club level for the Lady Rock.

If anything has changed from her high school days, it’s that the field at Hamburg looks quite different.

“I remember the last time I played here it was on grass and there wasn’t this stadium. It’s great for the sport and the development of youth and high school athletics,” said Spencer, who’s recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in May.

“You look at the great players and so many of them are still from those traditional hotbeds like Maryland and Long Island but Upstate New York is starting to make a name for itself, producing a lot of these great players that play at great Division I, II and III universities and then some are able to play at this level,” she added. “It’s important to me come back to my roots and spread the game and help make WNY and upstate NY just as competitive as traditional hotbeds.”

This event received all types of help from not only Hamburg but also the entire Western New York community.

Stone, who’s also a veteran of working with national lacrosse organizations, currently serving as the competitions chair for the International Federation, thought of calling her friends at Hamburg when US Lacrosse needed a venue on their way to Canada and Nichols was hosting a University of Delaware field hockey camp. Using her many contacts in the sport, Stone also helped to recruit about 10 college players to supplement the 24-player U.S. roster and participate in an exhibition in the early evening.

Hamburg could be a stop once again next year when the FIL World Cup is played July 11 to 20 at the Oshawa Recreation and Civic Center in Canada. The last time U.S. national players were in Buffalo they visited Nichols School and Amherst in 2007 when the U-19 team was preparing to play in the World Championships in Ontario.

“This is kind of a dry run for next year,” Stone said. “This gives me a chance to see the facility, dorms and area around it and we’ll train the score tables and evaluate officials while we’re up there.”

For now, this rare opportunity to get a feel for what it takes to reach the ultimate level in this growing sport seems like it will stick with the many youth players for quite some time.

“Their presence is so great,” Wolf said. “You know they have the experience and knowledge to help get us to the next level.”
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