After a three-year wait, Christian Laureano and Sean Laureano will get their chance to shine on a world stage.
It was 2019 when the East County brothers first heard that Puerto Rico was attempting to put together teams to play in the 2020 World Lacrosse Championship in Limerick, Ireland. Christian Laureano was a sophomore at Cardinal Mooney High and Sean Laureano was still in eighth grade.
Christian Laureano saw on social media that Puerto Rico was holding a tryout at Premier Sports Campus for its U19 team. He was immediately intrigued. The brothers' father, Jason Laureano, was born in Puerto Rico, giving them eligibility for the team. After a few phone calls, the boys were on the tryout list.
"I thought it was the perfect way to harness my passion, which is lacrosse, and bring that together with my Puerto Rican heritage, which I want to dig into and represent," Christian Laureano said.
Christian Laureano said the tryout was filled with an eclectic mix of approximately 15 people. Some of the athletes were born in Puerto Rico and spoke Spanish as their first language. Others, like the Laureanos, were born in America and spoke little, if any, Spanish. While Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, the International Olympic Committee treats it separately and allows it to compete as its own country.
A FIRST ATTEMPT
The tryout was Puerto Rico's first attempt at putting together a lacrosse team to compete internationally, so everyone was new, including the coaching staff. The coaches devoted time at the tryout to going over the team's mission as Puerto Rico wants to be competitive on the world stage and expand the game, especially to its youth. The Puerto Rico Lacrosse nonprofit organization was founded in 2015 to do exactly that.
After the tryout, Christian Laureano was named to the U19's main roster while Sean Laureano was named a U19 alternate and a main member of the country's U15 roster. The boys expected to hit the world championships with those assignments — until COVID-19 hit. The 2020 championships were canceled.
An attempt to move the event to 2021 also fell through. In 2022 and the championships are on, though they will feature U21 teams instead of U19 teams to compensate for the cancellations. Both Laureano brothers have made the main roster. They will head to Limerick Aug. 10-20.
A lot has changed in the three years since the initial tryout. For one thing, Christian Laureano is no longer a Cardinal Mooney Cougar. He's playing for NCAA Division I program Mercer, where the 6-foot-2 freshman appeared in five games, notching two goals and an assist. Meanwhile, Sean Laureano just completed his junior season at Mooney. Playing one of the toughest schedules in the state, Laureano, who is 5-foot-11, was second on the team with 90 points (43 goals, 47 assists).
TIME TO IMPROVE
Both players feel like the time away has helped their personal games, especially Sean Laureano, whose tape impressed Puerto Rico's coaches enough to see him named to the main U21 roster.
"I have become a lot faster and a lot bigger," Sean Laureano said. "The best thing I bring is energy. I always try to play with as much energy as possible, so being faster and bigger helps me play that way, whether it is cutting to the net to getting the ball. I am also more experienced in terms of placement on the field. I'm smarter about where I need to be. I think the coaches saw that and liked that."
Christian Laureano has improved thanks to the challenge of transitioning from high school to Mercer. He said in addition to learning how to manage his time and workload, he learned how to play against players of a higher athleticism level.
As much as Florida has developed its high school lacrosse programs in the last decade, it still lags behind states in the mid-Atlantic and places like California. Going against players from those regions every day forced Laureano to be better in the details of the game, as he could not use his own athleticism to the dominant degree that he did in high school.
As excited as the brothers are to play against the world's best lacrosse players, they are just as excited to play on the same team again. They were supposed to share the field at Mooney for two seasons, but COVID-19 shut down the 2020 season early, and during a preseason game in 2021, Sean Laureano suffered a broken jaw, which kept him on the sidelines for most of the year.
"I feel like we were robbed of our time playing together," Christian Laureano said. "I am thankful to have the opportunity and, from knowing each other so well, I think it will benefit the (Puerto Rican) team to have both of us on the offensive side. We have a natural connection and I think it will allow us to play well together right away."
Christian Laureano said he's proud of the way Sean Laureano battled back from his jaw injury to play in a few late-season games. Sean did not tell Christian when he would be returning and instead he surprised Christian by showing up to the game in full uniform. Christian said it is that toughness that makes his brother hard to play against.
The Laureanos have been playing together since they could first hold lacrosse sticks, tossing the ball around their backyard for hours, but they have rarely shared the field in real games thanks to their age gap. Youth lacrosse typically has age divisions two years apart, meaning Christian would age out of a division as soon as Sean aged into it. It is why they were disappointed about their missed opportunity at Mooney and why they are so excited about their chance to finally play together in Ireland.
It is not all about the Laureanos' improvements, either. The Puerto Rico roster has also had some turnover in the last three years, resulting in a stronger core. A pre-tournament ranking has Puerto Rico ranked ninth out of the 23 teams competing. While those who follow the sport in Puerto Rico might be pleased with that ranking, Christian Laureano said he believes the team will outperform that ranking and will surprise people.
Both brothers admitted that they are not all that knowledgeable about Puerto Rico's history and culture. Christian Laureano said he visited Puerto Rico with his father twice when he was a child but does not remember much of the either trip. He would like to use this trip as a starting point to dig deeper. He is especially fond of Puerto Rico Lacrosse's dedication to reach its youth through the game and provide them opportunities they would otherwise not have. Laureano said some U.S. members of the U21 team went on a trip to Puerto Rico earlier this year to hold clinics and get acquainted with the area. Due to scheduling reasons, the Laureanos could not attend the trip, but they would like to do in the future.
"All of us on the team have been in communication," Christian Laureano said. "We have played a few practice tournaments together which has allowed us to bond. We want to take advantage of this three-year wait and turn it into something positive. I think we can finish in the top five."
Win-loss records aside, playing in the tournament at all means that the experience was a success for the Laureano brothers.
"This is a dream come true for me," Sean Laureano said. "I didn't think I would ever play with my brother again. To do it in a setting like this and be able to get closer to our (Puerto Rican) heritage at the same time, this is really special."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.