Morning breaks on Day Three of the Northwest Invitational and there’s a lot of good things happening. Mainly, the Roanoke is closed. But Mercer Island’s cadre of tireless volunteers are sweeping , cleaning, setting up and getting ready for a last push. Teams are warming up at the two island fields and there’s a little buzz in the stands over the previous day’s games; big wins by Bellevue and host Mercer Island.
Mike Lawson, head coach at Mount Olive, is the lone recruiter remaing at the tournament, and he’s got a flight to catch right after the noon games. He’s going home “shocked” with the high level of lacrosse being played here in the Northwest, as well as with the community and fan support. He runs an NCAA D2 program in North Carolina and has now added the Northwest to his list of favorite “fishin’ holes.”
Down on the field, there’s a storm a brewin’ and no one knows it. Claremont, the boys from Victoria, British Columbia are gearing up to face Henderson (NV.) It’s a classic battle of two offensive-minded teams with two different styles. Claremont, is a lunch-pail packin’, hard-hitting Canadian team with the stereotypical amazing stick skills. They’re wearing black but their collars are blue. Henderson is the high-flying, rip-and-run, West Coast Hollywood flash team. They wear the red, white and blue with an Ambassador’s sash, and have their names printed on their tails for all to see. It’s LA Lakers Showtime vs Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics. It’s Muhammed Ali vs. Joe Frazier. It’s Reggie Jackson’s Yankees vs. well, you get the picture.
The game starts with a big dose of run and gun. Henderson brings the ball down quickly and lights up the net. Kieran Eissler, a Hopkins signee, runs the field like a Magic Johnson. But he’s got plenty of James Worthys and Byron Scotts, in the form of Blake Day and younger brother Quinton Eissler. (Dad & coach Chris Eissler stalks the sidelines, but he’ll never be confused with Pat Riley.) The Cougars score often, but Claremont scores plenty. It turns into a battle of the face-off men, and Claremont’s guy starts to dominate bringing the first quarter to a close with the score 6-6.
The second quarter gives us even more offense. Eissler has a rocket low-to-high shot, easily the fastest of anyone in the tournament, and if given time and room, he can make a goalie’s chest pad quiver. But the Cougars are also adept at the four-passes-to-a-dunk-shot-from-the-crease as well. They have clearly played a lot together. But the Spartans from Claremont give no quarter in scoring. Their quick, precise, don’t-you-dare-cradle-before-you-shoot passes lead to enough goals to keep them within two at halftime. Then things get fun.
In addition to their offense, Claremont brings some beef at longstick, and the defenders aren’t shy about using it. There’s been plenty of flags and mandown situations already, but the laundry and flesh start to fly in the third quarter. The Cougars’ Damon Goldhammer gets leveled on a high hit by a Claremont middie and lays crumpled on the field unable to get up. Coach Eissler runs out while play continues, clearly torn between checking on his player and screaming at the referees. (Okay, maybe that’s a little Riley-esque.) Goldhammer is eventually okay, and able to walk off, but the tone of the game gets pretty scrappy. Lots of late hits, hard checks and one short fight ensue.
At one point there were a total of five men on their knees in the penalty area. But the refs get control of the game in the 4th quarter and we get back to playing lacrosse. At least the offensive part of lacrosse.
Midway through the quarter Claremont finally crawls back into a tie. Everyone’s middies seem gassed but Claremont’s reach down a little more and their stamina carries them to a 19-16 victory. There was a definite sigh of relief from the stands as the game, and the handshake, end without further incidents.
Henderson left to get on a plane home to Las Vegas, having gone 2-1 against the NW’s top talent. Claremont stuck around to hand Portland Jesuit an afternoon loss, and the tournament came to an end with a close game between Lake Oswego and Lake Washington, which the Lakers won 10-9 over the Kangaroos.
The stands cleared, the sun went behind the clouds and hundreds of lacrosse players and fans went back to doing the mundane parts of their lives. Thanks to all the volunteers, players and entourages that make it all possible.