Wednesday, July 9, 2008

National-level girls lacrosse tournament coming to Boyds

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Jenna Ries, the founder of the Champions of Tomorrow club program, and the head girls lacrosse coach at Bethesda-Chevy Chase high school, watched the Maryland Public Secondary School Association state semifinal this year with great interest. Wootton, which had made it through the regular season undefeated, lost to Catonsville, but the 11-6 margin showed that maybe the gap between Montgomery County and the best teams in the state was closing.

‘‘Lacrosse gives you so few opportunities to demonstrate that you have raised the bar,” Ries said. ‘‘Teams do not play out of their area all that much. U.S. Lacrosse has been great in running the game, but they have not yet been able to conquer that disparity.”

In an attempt to do that, Ries, along with Good Counsel coach Mike Haight, created the group Evolution Games, an offshoot of Champions of Tomorrow, which will host the first Women’s Lacrosse Club National Championship Tournament, which will be held from July 18-20 at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds. Over 160 teams, and close to 4,000 athletes are expected to participate.

‘‘The whole goal is to try to get these players better, and the way to do that is to play the best players,” Ries said. ‘‘The best teams in the country are right here in our back yard, in Annapolis and places like that, and we have a chance to bring them here. It is a step in the right direction, if only for three days.”

The Champions of Tomorrow club team, the Jackals, will play in the tournament, as well as some of the best teams in the state and the country. Among the list are is another Montgomery County program, Future Elite, as well as teams hailing from the lacrosse hotbeds of Long Island, N.Y. and Pennsylvania. Yet two teams from Maryland, the North East Maryland Select (NEMS) Lacrosse Club and SEPA Lacrosse Club, which hails from Severna Park, home of one of the top programs in the country. That should definitely raise the caliber of competition.

‘‘We are so pleased that these teams are coming, that they were open and receptive to this tournament,” Ries said. ‘‘It helps because the college coaches show up to watch seasoned players that have had a chance to play outside of their [local] bubble. It changes the pace and intensity of the game and that is what Evolution Games is trying to create.”

Teams that will compete in the tournament have been separated into brackets by age, with a middle-school group, a B division made up of players in the high school classes of 2011-2012 and the championship A division made up of players in the high school classes of 2009-2010. In the A division, teams have been separated into six brackets and will compete in pool play, earning seeds into a 32-team single-elimination final stage.

‘‘This allows the best teams, or even a Cinderella surprise, to reach the finals. It’s our version of March Madness in July,” Ries said. ‘‘The goal is that the top 16 teams in the tournament could make a solid claim to be the top 16 teams in the country. The champion or our tournament should easily match up with anyone.”

In the process, the tournament should provide a chance for Montgomery County’s top club players to compete against some of the best players in the nation. That. according to Ries, is what the county needs if it is ever going to be the seat of a state champion.

‘‘Junior-varsity lacrosse will make a difference but that is not solely the answer,” Ries said. ‘‘At the end of the day we need players that can transcend the barriers and have the talent and support to do it. The doors are just getting opened.”