(COLUMBUS, OH) – For years, the brightest stars of the Windsor Warlocks box lacrosse program have trekked across the border to try their hands at field lacrosse. Despite Ontario’s university league, CUFLA, there are not nearly as many field lacrosse options for Canadian boys, especially in the southwestern corridor.
Americans, on the other hand, have long embraced field lacrosse and provide scholarships for their best student-athletes through the NCAA and boast the Major Lacrosse League; the only major professional field league in the world.
In Canada, it has always been about the indoor game, affectionately known as box lacrosse or boxla. The Canadian Lacrosse Association and Ontario Lacrosse Association have large and well attended minor, junior, and senior leagues which cookie-cut talent specifically for the border-spanning National Lacrosse League.
Don’t mistake it, though. Canada does have pockets of field lacrosse dotting the map and have national championships at multiple age levels to reflect that. But, it is not nearly as substantial as on the American side.
What Canada lacks in field lacrosse, however, their numbers per capita exceed Americans playing box lacrosse.
The indoor game offers a fresh and more intense take on the game for field players, leading to a number of NCAA schools embracing the game as a training mechanism during the offseason.
The Juiced Cherries lacrosse program, a youth field association in Detroit, just finished their first experimental foray into boxla.
“[Owner/program director] Jake Kenney has always talked about getting box started,” said indoor Juiced Cherries coach John Rosa. “With the success of his field program as the top travel team in Michigan, Jake felt it was time to act on his vision of running a box program.”
Rosa is a retired, 14-year veteran of the National Lacrosse League, the premier indoor lacrosse league in the world. He’s assisted Kenney in getting the box program off the ground, recruiting members of the Windsor Warlocks to play alongside the Juiced Cherries’ finest in three different divisions.
“We decided to bring in a few more coaches from Windsor, Grant Sokoloski and Garrison Matte, to assist,” he said. “There are many box programs in the US, but unless you have a person with box experience running it, it just turns into field lax indoors.”
The three inaugural Juiced Cherries indoor teams were divided by school age-levels; Grade 7/8, 9/10, and 11/12. The international squad gelled over the course of a few weeks with winter practices then, in February, travelled to Columbus to rumble at the Resolute Lacrosse Midwest Classic.
“Each team improved greatly throughout the tourney,” said Rosa. “Our 7/8 team only lost their first game by one goal to the eventual tournament winners.” With the 7/8s taking bronze, the two older squads did even better.
“Our 9/10 team went undefeated and won the tourney and, lastly, our 11/12 team lost in the finals to Resolute, the home team,” said Rosa.
Griff Salaris was the goalie for the Juiced Cherries 9/10 squad.
“It was cool to see all the players and teams that are getting into box lacrosse,” said Salaris. “The competition was pretty good.”
In their post-tourney analysis, Resolute Lacrosse described Salaris as, “money between the pipes” with a goals against average just over three.
“He was at his best in the gold medal game versus a strong Resolute side; a big reason why the Michigan-based club won it all in Columbus,” Rosa said.
“We had a lot of new guys on the team so it was cool to be looked at as a leader,” stated Salaris. “My dad and I talked about making some saves early to give the new guys a chance to get into the game and I think I did that.”
Salaris was excited to share the experience with his Warlocks kin, Josh ‘Crash’ Rosa, Connor McManus, and Xander Derkatz.
“I knew those guys would put up some goals and help the new players too, Salaris said. “The team got better with each game on offense, but especially defense. We played some pretty good teams, but we played hard and I think we deserved the gold medal. I’m looking forward to playing for the Juiced Cherries again.”
The box goalie is a bit of an enigma to American field fans and Salaris is one of the Warlocks’ finest. He is set to star between the pipes for the Midgets again this summer.
Field goalies wear much less equipment, play in front of a bigger net, hold their stick upright, and face a fraction of the shots of an indoor goalie. Indoor goalies are huge, well-armoured monsters of athletes, and stand much like a hockey goalie, often facing 40-50 shots in a 60-minute game.
Playing the game in the US and in the off-season was an added bonus for Salaris.
“I don’t get to play a lot of box lacrosse in the winter months,” he said. “I love playing box lacrosse, so it is really awesome that the Juiced Cherries are trying to get their field lacrosse players to play box lacrosse.”
Malikye Good was one of the Warlocks who played for the 7/8 squad.
“I was comfortable, but it wasn’t as fast as the game here,” said Good. Otherwise, the talent level, “was just about even with here,” he said.
Good’s team was mostly field players with a few Warlocks added into the mix.
“It was definitely field-driven. The rules were mostly non-contact. So, field indoors,” Good explained. “It was cool seeing how it was organized and the different plays that they showed us.”
McManus and Josh Rosa were also members of Salaris’ gold medal-winning 9/10 team.
“It was different, just the style of the rules and just the way it was played,” stated McManus. “It was a good experience to play that way and teach kids that don’t really know the box game.”
“It can sharpen their skills for the field game and help them out a lot in the field game for in-close passes and stuff like that and it was just an all-around good experience,” agreed Rosa.
Resolute Lacrosse described McManus, the Cherries’ leading scorer, as, “the kind of player any coach would want in their lineup.” Rosa, who was second in scoring, was, “pretty slick and automatic on well-timed breakaways and penalty shots.”
Salaris, McManus, and Rosa were all named tournament all-stars.
“There are still differences between the Canadian and American interpretations of the box game,” said coach Rosa, Josh’s father. “Our game is still a little more physical with quicker ball movement. The Americans have great athletes that run well with the ball, but are still learning how and when to move the ball quickly. Canadian players benefit by getting extra time playing, getting their sticks in their hands.”
How about next year?
“I would do it again next year if we have a chance,” said McManus.
“I would definitely do it again, it was a lot of fun,” agreed Josh Rosa. “Scored some goals, got some assists, and won the gold.”