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This past weekend, the US Box Lacrosse Association announced that they will be forming the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (UCBLL) to begin play this summer with four teams operating in partnership with the Buffalo Bandits and Rochester Knighthawks. This is huge news for American college lacrosse players in Western New York, Upstate, and the surrounding areas.

This league will change the landscape of summer lacrosse in WNY/Upstate and honestly I’m extremely jealous of how great an opportunity this will be for current college players.

The UCBLL will join the CCBLL (Colorado), the OCBLL (Ohio), and the CTCBLL (Connecticut) to help give more college age players the opportunity to play real box lacrosse and sharpen their skills in the summer. Before the USBOXLA college leagues were formed, if Americans wanted to play real box lacrosse then they would have to make the long road trips to Canada or live there for the summer to battle it out in Jr. B or Jr. A against the Canadians who have been playing it their whole lives.

Some current American college players like Mac O’Keefe (Penn State/Orangeville), Charlie Kitchen (Delaware/Toronto), Zack Belter (St. Bonaventure/Orangeville), JJ Lombardi (Cornell/Oakville), Michael Altmann (Hofstra/Mimico), and Colin Munro (Georgetown/Coquitlam) have ventured across the border to play in Ontario and British Columbia. There’s no doubt that playing in those intense close quarter games is a big reason they are tearing it up so far this college field season.

At this point in time, the winner of the Minto Cup would easily beat the winner of the NCBS Nationals. The biggest differences are in goaltending, structured 5 v 5 offense and defense, and in the nuances of the box game.

The Americans playing in the NCBS are not quite at that level yet, but they make up for it with athleticism and a drive to compete.

We see it on a bigger stage and with older players every 4 years when the US can’t keep up with Canada or Iroqouis at the World Indoor Championships.

However, USBOXLA’s collegiate and youth leagues will change that in the near future. Americans learning and playing box together will create chemistry that can carry over year after year and maybe one day all the way to Team USA.

Without the NCBS, it’s a big sacrifice for American players to dedicate most of their summer to driving to practices and games for countless hours to be able to play box in Canada.

I played for the Wallaceburg Jr. B team when I was back home in Detroit for the summer after my sophomore year at Canisius. I would work at my summer job and then drive an hour and a half or more across the border for midweek games or practices. Playing on Sunday and getting no sleep for work the next day made it the most exhausting summer of my life.

I remember at my first practice getting thrown into drills that I had never seen before, having to try and shoot on the huge box goalie, and try to defend a two man game only to get tossed to the floor from a hard pick. My Canadian teammates had been doing this since they were 4 or 5 and even chirped me for wearing my field helmet. It was such a strange feeling as I was still playing lacrosse, but almost everything except for cross checking was different.

Several of my Canisius teammates used to live in Buffalo all summer to play Jr. B in St. Catherines and their stories are even wilder than my own experience, but when fall ball started you could tell how much better they were at the small things like ground balls or finishing in tight.

If the UCBLL was around while I was playing in college, I’m not sure if I would have chosen it over playing in Canada. Not having to travel so much and being able to play with other American college kids definitely would have been a good time, but I wouldn’t trade my experiences playing in Canada for anything.

The UCBLL will join the already box crazed WNY and Upstate area. Many players here grow up going to Bandits and Knighthawks games and dream of playing for them one day.

There are hundreds of very good D1, D2, D3, and Club college players in WNY and Upstate that don’t get much live game action in the summer except for their local men’s leagues or at tournaments like Lake Placid. The UCBLL will change that and offer a way for players to learn box and be ready to dominate when they go back to school for fall ball.

Once the UCBLL and the other USBOXLA leagues have been around for awhile, I would love to see them play some of the Jr. A or Jr. B Canadian and native teams in preseason scrimmages to really test how far American box lacrosse has come.

The days of American players trying out for the NLL without any box experience will be a thing off the past in the next decade.

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