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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wow Some Lax News!

First off, CILA will not have regularly scheduled Saturdays. With Valley practicing twice a week and playing in the Summer Open Lacrosse League on Thursday nights, they are just too busy for Saturday mornings. Plus, overall attendance at the Saturday morning sessions has been down. If enough people contact me about playing then I will schedule a session or two.

That said, we will have a Toss Around next Saturday (8/29) at 10:30 AM. As always, it will be at Valley Southwoods. Pads will not be required. Invite your friends so we can introduce them to the game!

The first game of the Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend went as I predicted - Denver defeated Boston in a close game. After Rabil and the Cannons built up a large lead early in the second half, Josh Sims scored three back-to-back goals to bring the Outlaws back into the game. In what was arguably one of the most exciting MLL games of the season (possibly of all time), Denver came back to win 11-10 in a real nail biter.

The other game was not televised. Unfortunately this was a great loss for lax fans as it also turned out to be a close and exciting game. In the end Toronto managed to outscore my Lizards, winning 14-13.

I stand by my prediction for tomorrow: Denver by two. Given the intensity and talent that Toronto brings, the championship should be as exciting as today's game. It will be aired live on ESPN at noon (Iowa time) tomorrow (8/23).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Taste in Sports - Welcome to Now

In the early part of 2004 I started to get a group of guys together to play soccer. We planned to join an established summer mens league at the Cownie complex. We created a name and logo and came up with uniform color choices. Our name was Two Rivers Tigers, in honor of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers and named after my childhood team. We chose orange for our primary jersey and a selection of colors for our alternate jerseys - blue, sky, black & white striped - depending on which brand we would go with. Things were heading in the right direction and we had eight guys confirmed, just seven short of our goal and three short of a full field.

Unfortunately what appeared to be appendicitis hit me that March. Long story short - I had surgery, it took longer than expected, and the doctor could not find the inflamed appendix he saw on the CT scan. About a week after the surgery the wound got infected. This resulted in three and half months of recovery and healing that kept me out of work. While I was able to finish my final two classes and graduate from Grand View, playing soccer was not an option. Without me running things, the group disbanded and the team died.

I tried to get an indoor team together that fall with the hope of building an outdoor squad from that. Unfortunately nobody was interested. That particular outdoor league ceased to exist the following summer, leaving only the Over-the-Hill League, which most of the team was not qualified for, and the Latino League, which nobody wanted to participate in. My soccer team aspirations were put on indefinite hold.
Luckily I found renewed interest in ice hockey. I had picked up a better pair of ice skates sometime in 2004 and had gone skating with my wife. After becoming familiar with the Metro Ice Sports Facility in 2005, I found their pickup hockey schedule and managed to make a few lunch hockey sessions on days that I had off from work. I had also enrolled in a Master's Degree program at Drake University that fall and by the spring of 2006 I had stopped working to focus on school. The side affect of this was more time for pickup hockey. I started playing breakfast or lunch hockey every other week through the fall semester that year.

When my student teaching started in 2007, my schedule filled up and once again hockey stopped. It was during that summer when Matt at Cup O' Kryptonite started including tidbits about Cup's D League hockey team in his weekly emails. Joe at Alien Hockey ran the C and D Leagues. I was already familiar with Joe and his store; I purchased some Bauer Vapor XXX gloves from him the year before to replace my decrepit Nikes. He knew that I had some experience because I had been in the store so he was hesitant on putting me in the D league, especially on Cup.

After explaining that I had not played hockey regularly since 1999, and that my ice hockey experience was minimal - combined with being out of shape - he agreed to let me start in the D League rather than going straight to C. Unfortunately I could not play for Cup because their roster was full. Instead I joined a team full of league newcomers called "Miller's Team" after the senior member of the squad.
Within a couple of weeks, one of the players offered to sponsor the team. We soon had maroon jerseys (Coyotes blanks) and were known as "B & B." We got along great and had fun on the ice. Our players were pretty decent, some were even great. Having switched to center, I had a high face off win percentage and soon mastered the art of the break away. I led the team in scoring. Unfortunately we just could not quite pull it together; we only had one win all season.
Towards the end of the season, I started what I like to refer to as my free agent discussions. Since my original intention was to join Matt on his Cup team (league champions by the way), I was eager to do so for the summer league. I spoke with senior members of B & B to seek permission to transfer - not because of our record, but because I wanted to play with my friends. They agreed and I was eager for the summer season. Unfortunately, new management had taken over MISF and subsequently, our league. The quality of the league, ice, and facility went downhill rapidly. I vowed to boycott MISF from that point forward.
Last fall, the newly rechristened Chops presented Joe with an interesting offer: he could invite players to purchase a partial season ticket package and participate in a C League at Wells Fargo Arena. Since I love watching hockey and attended many Stars games despite their crappy affiliation, name, and play, I was excited. The Ducks affiliation was promising and the Chops name, while not great, was definitely an improvement. This opportunity allowed me the best of both worlds; I got to have season tickets to the Chops and play hockey in the state's premier facility. It was a fun time, but ultimately lacked in games. Consequently, I gained something like 10 pounds last winter - most of what I lost the previous year.

Since I knew that the Chops league was limited I sought potential indoor soccer players. I knew that I was not the only guy that was fed up with MISF. A few people were interested, but once again my soccer plans fell through. That is when I started some soul searching.

My first exposure to lacrosse was in American Pie. When Oz mentioned being a professional lacrosse player, I laughed because the sport was virtually nonexistent (or so I thought) in 1999. As far as I knew, only a couple of schools had lacrosse programs, there was no pro league, and it belonged to rich kids in the northeast. How wrong I was. High schools in Minnesota, Chicago, and St. Louis had lacrosse programs, as did Iowa (est. 1977) and ISU. There was even a professional league- the National Lacrosse League.

Still, I thought nothing of lacrosse until well after Major League Lacrosse debuted in 2001. Once I found out that somebody had thrown money down for a professional league, I decided to check the sport out. I started following MLL in 2003 or so after seeing a couple of games on satellite TV (I had access to every channel). I also started watching NCAA lax around the same time. I was not a die hard fan, but lax was something I would watch when it was on. It was growing on me, but I figured it was still pretty much an east coast sport with Denver being an island.

As the years wore on and I switched to Mediacom (my free satellite was gone), I started to follow lax more and more. Hopkins quickly emerged as my favorite team based on the play of Kyle Harrison and then Paul Rabil (plus the fact that they do not compete in any other D1 sports). The Long Island Lizards had already established themselves as my MLL pick. Kicking off in 2005, the Minnesota Swarm supplanted the Colorado Mammoth as my NLL team, but I was just getting into lax and had not really devoted myself to the Mammoth. The Swarm really came onto my radar because many of their inaugural season games were televised during the NHL lockout.

When my indoor soccer flans fell apart (again) last fall, I decided it was time to do something just for the fun of it. I had gained a lot of interest in lacrosse after watching the college game and both versions of the pro game. I figured that if nothing else, tossing a lacrosse ball back and forth would be a fun way to spend time at family gatherings. When I talked to my wife about it, she agreed that ordering a couple of sticks was a fun idea and she thought my idea of trying to get something started sounded worthwhile. So I started this blog as "Central Iowa Lacrosse." I figured I would mostly get a few adult hockey players to come try it out at best. Neither of us thought that lax would take off as much or as quickly as it did.
By now you know that I hooked up with the Waukee/Valley club and that the team evolved into Valley Tigers Lacrosse Club. You know that I became an assistant coach with Valley and that we finished 12-1 overall last spring. You know that the Central Iowa Lacrosse Association has its own site now. You know the Summer Open Lacrosse League has seen new players on a regular basis and is still going strong on Thursdays (5:30 pm) and Saturdays (11:30 am). You probably know that we will start the Open Box Lacrosse League on Thursday nights (7-9:00) beginning in November at the Soccer House. It is quite possible that you have heard rumors of us getting local certified to ref Valley's games which will allow us to host more games in the metro.

I have steadily improved as a laxer and am excited for Valley's fall tournaments. I am greatly looking forward to the box league, which will be my first effort running an organized sports league. I have taken many ques from Joe's hockey leagues and Brandon at the Soccer House has been helpful as well. So far things are going smoothly as we plan the league.

I am also entering another full season of hockey. Once again Joe came through for us and has arranged an invitational C league at Buccaneer Arena. Once again I am joining Matt's Cup O' Kryptonite team (although our name may be slightly changed due to dual sponsorship). I am exciting at the prospect of playing hockey on Wednesdays and lax on Thursdays. Hopefully I will be able to get a few more guys onto the lax field before it is all said and done.

Thanks for joining me on this journey through my past. By now you know that I love hockey above every other sport, but lax and soccer are not far behind. Football is alright and I could really care less about baseball and basketball (although I do enjoy seeing both live). My posts will be more sporadic for the next few weeks as I have started training for a new position at work and my free time will be more limited. I will post when I can; hopefully I will get something up after my first hockey game.

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Taste In Sports - Adulthood

When I got to Iowa State in the fall of 1997, I loved no sport as much as hockey. Sure football still lingered as a secondary sport. Mostly I followed football for social reasons (still pretty much that way); not many people I knew followed hockey. Basketball and baseball pretty much fell off my radar and soccer was nowhere to be seen.

After graduation, I purchased the newly released Nike Air Zoom inline skates and gloves. The skates were black and based on the white ice skates worn by Sergei Fedorov. The gloves were exactly like his except for the fact that black had been substituted for Detroit's red. I also purchased new ice hockey shin guards and elbow pads. For Christmas during my junior year I received some low end Bauer ice skates, but I had never even had them sharpened. Between my 19th birthday and that Christmas I received a brand new Nike aluminum shaft, my first set of shoulder pads and my first breezers.

I was assigned to Towers, which turned out to be a lucky thing because there was a group of guys that regularly played roller hockey in the tennis courts. I hooked up with them right away and found out that they also played intramural ice hockey. They thought I was good enough at roller hockey to offer me a spot on their roster. I did not tell them that I never ice skated before.

Literally, the first time in my life that I ice skated was my first intramural hockey game. Making matters worse, I was put at defense - a position I never played. Had checking been allowed, I might have done alright. I quickly learned that although the Nike aluminum rocked for scoring goals, it was way too light for defense; I switched back to my old Titan. Somehow I managed to lead the league in penalty minutes...

I played with the Slackers (our name) both years I attended Iowa State. I was a little disappointed that I was not called to play roller hockey with them at the Iowa Games, but got over it. During the summer after my freshman years I moved to the north side of Ames but I continued driving to Towers to play with them. When intramural hockey rolled around that winter, I was a lot more confident on the ice (although I had not skated since our last game). My penalty minutes greatly decreased and we fared well, as I recall. Unfortunately my progress would soon be lost as I let ISU and returned to Des Moines.

All of my friends had either stopped playing roller hockey or had disappeared in the last two years. My brother and his friends no longer played either. This left me to my own devices. First I tried playing at Skate South, but found their uneven floor and odd rules inadequate. Then I looked into playing ice hockey, but the pick up times rarely fit with my work schedule and the leagues were invite only. Then I discovered Skate 2000.

Built during the height of roller hockey's popularity, Skate 2000 was the nicest roller rink in the Des Moines metro. The Johnston facility hosted a national roller hockey tournament in the late 1990s and also featured a great indoor soccer field. Built specifically for roller hockey, there were boards, benches and a smooth, slick floor.

Pickup games were scheduled weekly (Wednesdays I believe) for $5. Many of the same people would show up and soon everyone began to pretty much stay on a particular "team." I assume there was full league, but the pick up games were just fine. It gave me my hockey fix without requiring a commitment. I also managed a coupled of pickup ice hockey games at Buccaneer Arena after a call from my former Slackers captain.

As I was getting comfortable playing hockey again, I decided to return to school - Grand View College, specifically. Working a full time job during the day and taking a full course load at night meant that hockey would become more sporadic. I still played as much as a I could, but soon I was not playing at all. Then one day (early 2001, I think) I learned that Skate 2000 had closed.

While I finished up at Grand View, I joined a friend's co-ed recreational softball team. My hand-eye coordination and agility had improved over the years, resulting in solid skills at second base. While not a power hitter, I was consistent and good for deep singles and a few doubles. Strike outs were a thing of the past. We were the second best team in the league. As it turns out, a third of the team spent the previous two seasons with best team in the league.

We dominated most of the teams in our league, but the organizers did not think that was good enough. So they brought in ringers. We had high school baseball and softball players join our recreational team and we began to destroy the significantly weaker teams. I was not comfortable with this but did not say anything. That is until I received no playing time. I was one of the top three second basemen in our league. I came to every game and practice. I paid my dues. Then the team decided it would be better give my (and others') hard-earned and well-deserved playing time to underage (illegal under league rules) ringers that had done none of the above. Had it been a competitive league, or had I been as bumbling as I was in seventh grade, I would not have been as upset. Had we not been cheating, I would not have been as upset. This was my first sour softball experience.

The next time I was asked to join a softball team was years later (around 2005). It was in the same league but with a different team and I was asked by a different friend. They actually planned on fielding two teams and had four or five practice sessions beforehand to determine who would play where. Once again I worked my butt off and proved my worth. This time I demonstrated value on second, short, third, center, and right field. My hitting was stronger and still consistent; I managed to hit the hole about 80% of the time. I was among the top of the crowd and placed on the "good" team. "Good" referred more to our manager than our depth. The two managers split the talent; the other manager wanted me, but my friend was on the good team.

For the first part of the season I started every game in center field and batted fifth. I lead the team in RBIs and had the speed to stretch my hits by a base or two. One time I even managed an inside-the-park home run. Although not a dominate force, we were doing well - and without cheating. Things were going well until we suddenly had new people show up. They were definitely not ringers; some could not catch, hit or throw. My playing time started slipping as they came on in late innings.

Being subbed off was fine in this case. Many times we already had a lead and it gave a chance for the new people to get an inning or two. One day I was told that I was not starting. Never mind the fact that I was always the first person at the field, or the fact that I had been solid all season. Instead, a guy that had never played before and was not there until after our first batter stepped to the plate would be playing my position. 'Ok,' I thought, 'he will play an inning or two and then I will be put in.' Wrong. He played the entire game until our last at bat. Being down a couple of runs and with two outs, I was finally subbed in. I manged a single only to watch the next male batter strike out (with two outs girls had the option of an auto walk). As an isolated incident, I would have let it go. Unfortunately it happened again the next week. This time I was put in after two outs down by three with one on (auto walk). I was far from warmed up and feeling the pressure. A pop fly ended the game. This was my second sour softball experience and I now refuse to play.

I watched many World Cup games in 1994 since they were in the US. I remember mostly watching Germany's games and deciding to cheer for them. It made sense to me because my family has strong German heritage. Oddly I do not recall catching any US games. Considering their ugly uniforms, I should have.
Another World Cup would pass by me before I started getting back into soccer. Somehow I decided to start following the game again in 2002. I do not remember why; it may have been the ads for MLS, the "game tonight" signs posted around town for the Menace, or the extensive coverage of that year's World Cup. I tuned in to as many games as I could, but many were on while I was at work. Still, I managed to see our young talent advance out of the group stage and past Mexico in the Round of 16. I desperately wanted to see the US face my other favorite, Germany, in the quarter finals but could not. At least I could solace in Germany being the team that finally knocked us out. It is too bad the Germans lost to Brazil in the final.

After the World Cup, I was hooked on soccer. I bought FIFA World Cup 02 for X-Box and started watching MLS. I quickly decided to follow the Fire because of their proximity and name (Wizards just did not do it for me). Plus, the talented young DeMarcus Beasley was on the roster. He was spectacular in Japan/Korea. I was also determined to check out the Menace, whom I had heard about but never paid any attention to. Unfortunately I did not make it to any games that year.
I do not known when the Menace changed from the "Maniac" logo to their current one, but it was done before I finally made a game in 2003. Dragging my young brother-in-law with me, I finally saw my first live soccer match not involving little kids. This was the final linchpin in my love for soccer. I came back as many times as I could that season and the next. When the Menace moved to Waukee in 2005, I bought my first season tickets; this was the first time I would buy season tickets for any team. I went to every regular season, playoff, and US Open Cup home game that year; I even travelled to KC during the fourth round of the USOC. Partial season tickets followed the next two years but I barely made any games this year due to my schedule.
Continue to Part 8

Tribe 7