Lacrosse all-stars taking on the nation’s best

REDMOND — They are already among the best players in Washington, and this week they’ll find out how they stack up against the rest of the country.

Team Washington, which includes several players from Snohomish County, arrived in Baltimore on Monday for the inaugural US Lacrosse U15 National Championship tournament. The event begins Wednesday and continues to Friday.

“I’m optimistic that we have a realistic chance to contend,” said Rick Jenness of Edmonds, the team coordinator. “Some terrific programs are going to be there, and my sense is that we’re going to have to surprise at least one (pool) team with our ability. Some team that maybe on paper is better than us, and we’re going to catch them either tired or not expecting a strong opponent.”

The process of putting the squad together began last winter, Jenness said. Coaches of teams around the state were contacted and asked to nominate players for tryouts. Eventually, 127 kids were nominated and 101 showed up for tryouts.

The final roster includes 24 players with eight alternates. All are from western Washington except one player from Wenatchee.

Representing Snohomish County are Barrett Jenness, 14, from Edmonds, and the son of Rick Jenness; Frank Medlicott, 15, Stanwood; Connor Merritt, 15, Stanwood; Tyri Bethea, 13, Mukilteo; and Jeremy Blas, 14, Everett. Also, Griffin Van Baush, 14, is from Anacortes in Skagit County, but plays with a Stanwood team.

The tournament includes 32 teams from across the country (there is also a 32-team girls tournament), with a large number of squads from the East Coast, and particularly the lacrosse hotbed states of Maryland and New York. The teams have been placed into eight four-team pools — the Washington team is in a pool with teams from New York, Maryland and Florida — and round-robin play starts Wednesday.

The top two teams in each pool then advance to the championship bracket and the bottom two teams to the consolation bracket. The playoffs begin on Thursday and continue to the championship game on Friday.

“We have a good chance to do really well,” Van Baush said. “I think we can compete with the best teams there and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

“The level of competition is definitely high,” Barrett Jenness said. “I think we’re definitely going to have some fun.”

Although lacrosse is a sanctioned high school sport in parts of the country, particularly along the East Coast, it remains a club sport in Washington. The number of club teams in this state is growing steadily, according to Rick Jenness, but the sport is still unknown to many people and misunderstood by others.

“(My friends) don’t think it’s a real sport compared to football or basketball,” Barrett Jenness said. “All my friends play soccer, football and basketball … and they think it’s a dumb sport to play because they can’t understand it.”

“My friends don’t have much exposure to it, so they just don’t get it,” agreed Medlicott.

Merritt, though, has seen changes in the six years he’s been playing lacrosse. When he started, “none of my friends knew what it was,” he said. “No one had even heard of it. But now at the high school, all of my friends know about it and a lot of people go to our games.”

“When I first started, nobody even knew what it was,” said Bethea, who’s been playing for four years. “But now I tell them and they still don’t know exactly what it is, but they know about it.”

Outdoor lacrosse (it can also be played indoors) is contested on a large field roughly the size of a football field. Points are scored by putting a small ball into the opponent’s goal, and the ball is carried, passed and shot with a lacrosse stick, or crosse.

The game involves elements of soccer, hockey and even football. There is a lot of running and more than occasional contact.

“It’s a lot faster than most sports and everyone gets involved,” Medlicott said. “Everyone is in it and everyone has to be a part of it. And everyone has to be working together for it to work.”

“It’s athletic, it’s fast and I like that,” Blas said.

Most members of Team Washington have played other sports, and some still do. But the players from Snohomish County all say they would stay with lacrosse if they had to choose one sport.

“A lot of these kids have played soccer, a lot have played football and a lot have played baseball,” Rick Jenness said. “The stories I’ve heard is that (they think) baseball can get boring. But this is never boring. And the kids who don’t mind a little bit of contact, who like a lot of scoring, and who like the non-stop action of soccer, they like this.”

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