LAKEWOOD RANCH — It had never been done before.
No matter how hard they tried, the Manasota Monsters U11 Orange travel team hadn’t been able to knock off Blue Devil Elite.
So, when the Monsters learned they were going to be matched up with Blue Devil Elite in the LB3 Summer Jam June 8 through June 9, in Tampa, the players knew they had to step up their game.
Trailing by a goal, the Monsters rallied to beat Blue Devil Elite 7-3 en route to a second-place overall finish.
“They had beaten us twice before, so we realized we had to play harder,” 10-year-old defender Connor Rice says. “It was so thrilling, because we just played our hearts out.”
The Monsters followed up their second-place finish with a pair of championships. On June 15 and June 16, the boys went 5-1 to win the Casey Powell Orange Classic, in Boca Raton. The Monsters won their semifinal game 12-0, before beating Team 22, the host team, 7-3 in the championship game.
Most recently, the Monsters went 5-0 to win the Rippin’ at the Ranch tournament June 22 and June 23, at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch.
“We’re more confident here,” 9-year-old Ryan Sforzo says of playing a tournament on the Monsters’ home field. “We know everyone here.”
Ten-year-old teammate Stephen Markowski agrees.
“(This win) could change how other teams (perceive) us,” Stephen says. “It means we are one of the better areas in the state to play lacrosse. I always feel like no one thinks we are that good, but now they can’t doubt us, because we beat them.”
Winning is nothing new for eight members of the Monsters U11 Orange travel team. Along with Ryan, Connor and Stephen, players Nate Ashley, Luca Dominguez, Ryan Bolduc, Conor O’Neil and Hayden Coakley, all have been a part of the Manasota Lacrosse Academy’s undefeated recreational team, which has posted a perfect record each of the past two Tampa Bay Area recreational seasons. Overall, the team has won more than 40 games in a row, during the past three years.
“They work very hard,” coach Chris Markowski says. “I see their potential, and I want them to reach their full potential. They’re very good. Our ultimate goal is to be the best area in the state for lacrosse. We’ll get there.”
Prior to its undefeated season, Manasota Lacrosse lost two games — both to its rival, the FishHawk Coyotes. The following season, the boys scored their first victory over the Coyotes; they haven’t looked back since.
“We play as a team,” Ryan Bolduc says.
The players have seen their fair share of success, but they’ve also learned winning doesn’t always come easily. Instead, the boys approach every game and tournament with a renewed sense of focus.
“When we play another team, we still have to go out and play our best,” Connor Rice says. “It doesn’t mean we can’t go out and get beat just because we beat them before.
“When we play another team that’s just like us that has just as good of skills as we do, then we tend to rise up to meet the competition,” Connor Rice says.
The Manasota Lacrosse Academy formed five years ago and has since grown from a handful of players to about 360 players. In 2011, the organization only had one U11 travel team. Today, the organization is home to seven travel teams, including six boys teams ranging from U9 to U15, and a girls middle-school team.
Now with their undefeated recreational season and back-to-back championship travel season behind them, the Monsters U11 Orange players will spend the rest of the summer preparing for their upcoming fall recreational season, which will begin in October. They also will prepare for tryouts for the 2014 travel season, which could include a trip to Denver for a US Lacrosse Tournament, in conjunction with the International Federation of Lacrosse Tournament. The event features teams from all over the world, as players compete for a world championship trophy.
In addition, Ryan Sforzo, Connor, Conor, Nate, Stephen and Luca also were selected to play for Casey Powell’s Elite Team 22 in the Saratoga Springs New York Shootout July 5 through July 8. The All-Star team is comprised of players from Florida, Maryland and New York.
“It’s an exciting time for lacrosse in our area,” coach Chris Sforzo says. “The future is bright, and the Manasota Monsters hope to continue their growth and pursuit of excellence in all that we do.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
+ Rippin’ Ranch tourney draws 60 teams
Sixty youth-travel lacrosse teams from across Florida and Georgia battled, during the first Rippin’ at the Ranch Lacrosse Tournament June 22 to June 23.
The Manasota Monsters, whose teams feature players from Manatee and Sarasota counties, competed in the U9, U11, U13 and U 15 divisions, as well as the girls middle school division.