Chinese lacrosse team leaves Denver with heads held high after tournament

Updated: 2014-07-22 10:57

By Jack Freifelder in Denver (China Daily USA)

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The buzzer has sounded, the trophies have been handed out and the stands have been swept and cleaned.

Most of the players from the 2014 FIL World Lacrosse Championship have returned home, but for nine countries, including China, the 2014 edition was their first experience at lacrosse's premier global event.

China has a relatively undeveloped relationship with lacrosse, but that link is growing and some believe the country's participation in this year's games could be a watershed moment for the sport in the world's most-populated country.

"Our guys went into the tournament saying it would be great to win," Mike Elefante, head coach of the Chinese national lacrosse team said Sunday in an interview with China Daily. "Winning would have been great but it wasn't the main priority."

A 3-4 overall record and a finish in 33rd place might be an afterthought for some, but Elefante said: "When we got here our goal was to just get better from the first game to the last game. We wanted to be a better team and better individual players, and I think we accomplished that."

"One of the things I wanted to press home was that these guys were pioneers for lacrosse in China," he said. "People need to know that there is lacrosse in China and being in the World Championships really legitimizes what we've been doing in China. Their names are forever going to be associated with the first team that ever came to a world championship."

Lacrosse has been in China for several decades, according to the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL), but the sport has yet to find the same following it enjoys with North American athletes with their Chinese counterparts.

China Lacrosse Association, the governing body of lacrosse in the world's second-largest economy, is a nonprofit group that provides opportunities to discover and participate in the sport through clinics and coaching workshops.

The organization was also responsible for fielding the Chinese national team.

The 2014 FIL World Championship is hosted by the FIL and US Lacrosse.

This year it included more than 30 countries and took place from July 10-19 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park just outside of Denver. ESPN, a leading US cable and satellite sports television channel, also provided coverage of the event across its networks and on ESPN3, its online streaming service.

US Lacrosse, founded in 1998, is the national governing body of lacrosse in the United States and the FIL is the international governing body of the sport, formed in 2008 through a merger of the male and female global lacrosse associations.

China joined the FIL in 2012 as the seventh Asian country to link up with the sport's governing body. Despite the late entrance, China's potential as a market for lacrosse is "limitless", according to Brian Logue, director of communications for US Lacrosse.

The 23-man final roster for this year's Chinese national team was chosen from a list of 35 candidates. That initial group included representation from more than 15 provinces in China and a number of top-tier collegiate athletic programs.

Tyler Buchan, a 20-year-old from Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, said at first the language barrier was "a bit rough" when the Chinese team met up in Denver.

"A couple of us came from Canada and America, so at the start we had never met a lot of the guys from China before," Buchan said in an interview with China Daily. "It just helped being around each other, and as you can see it helped us perform later on in the tournament," he said.

Dylan Bassham, a 19-year-old lacrosse player from Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, said one of the Chinese team's main goals coming into the tournament was to help spread the game of lacrosse because "this tournament is a celebration of the sport".

"Seeing all these teams out here coming from nothing and growing is a perfect example," Bassham said. "Take Uganda, where people found the love of the sport and players were able to find something in common."

Matt Bailey, a 21-year-old Vancouver native, said his advice to players considering the event is "not to hesitate at all and jump into it".

"A lot of my best friends have come from lacrosse, so I wouldn't have met them without playing the game," Bailey said. "It's a mutual hobby that you find with other people and you can kind of bond with them over it."

Team Canada beat Team USA in the championship game 8-5, on July 19, giving Canada its third world lacrosse championship.

Since the tournament's inception in 1967, Canada (3) and the US (9) are the only two countries to be crowned champions of world lacrosse.

 Chinese lacrosse team leaves Denver with heads held high after tournament

From left: Dylan Bassham, Tyler Buchan and Matt Bailey, members of the Chinese National Lacrosse team pose for a photo during the championship match on Sunday in Commerce City, Colorado. Jack Freifelder / China Daily

(China Daily USA 07/22/2014 page2)