By Steven Wizniuk
The IBLA (Interstate Box Lacrosse Association) has grown to a league of 52 teams since starting out in 2016. The popularity of the NLL and the wider acceptance of box lacrosse in the United States has everybody looking for a chance to test their skills in the indoor game. The IBLA is a huge step toward a greater American box lacrosse revolution.
Powell Lacrosse is proud to be an equipment provider and sponsor of the IBLA for the 2021 season. You can see our uniforms, apparel, and gear being worn by teams like the Minneapolis Wheat Kings, Salt City Eels, Baton Rouge Redfish, Morristown Rally, and Westminster Wild this summer.
As they get ready to kick off their season with a big slate of games this weekend, let’s dive into what the IBLA means for the growth of box lacrosse in the US.
It’s taken a long time for Americans to fully embrace box lacrosse.
For many old school players and coaches it was just “that game played up north” where they only play with one hand and cross check like crazy. Pro indoor lacrosse drew big crowds because of the hitting and flashy goal scoring, but Canadian players always dominated the rosters. It wasn’t until the first few Canadians and Native American players started to play college lacrosse that people saw the skills players acquired playing indoors. Guys like Mike French, Dave Huntley, the Gaits, and Tom Marechek did things no one thought was possible with a lacrosse stick. Years later John Grant Jr., Zack Greer, Curtis Dickson, Brodie Merrill, Geoff Snider, Mark Matthews, the Thompsons, and others displayed the stick skills and play making ability they learned playing box lacrosse on ESPN and across social media.
American coaches are now scrambling to have their players play box to try and acquire some of those same skills. Older players are trying backhands, around the worlds, and are only playing with one hand in the pros and in men’s leagues after watching how box players play. For many years opportunities to play box were hard to come by in most of the US.
Up until recently, if an American wanted to get real box experience they would have to either live near the Canadian border or a Native reservation where they could try and make a team. Or live in Canada for a summer hopefully knowing someone already on a team. Every summer you could probably count the number of Americans playing in these Junior and Senior leagues on two hands.
Things will be different this summer as 52 Senior men’s teams are set to play box lacrosse in 22 different states across the US in the IBLA. Teams are grouped into regions and play games against the 2-4 other teams to decide who will move on to the IBLA National Tournament in September. Along with youth and college leagues starting up through USBOXLA across the country, there has never been this much box lacrosse being played in the United States.
There have always been “indoor” leagues in the US, but most of the time these end up being field lacrosse played in a hockey rink using field nets and players trying to dodge down the alley. Only a few leagues like the Baltimore Indoor Lacrosse League and others played with goalies in actual box pads, a shot clock, and the real physicality of the indoor game. The IBLA will now bring that all over the country.
In comparison to Canada and the Upstate New York Can-Am leagues where there are around 35 Senior B and 13 Senior A teams, it might seem like the US now has the upper hand. However, almost every one of those Canadian Senior teams have Junior teams and Minor associations that feed into them developing the next group of elite box players. The players on the Senior teams have played box their entire lives with the top Sr. B and Sr. A teams being made up of almost all NLL players.
The level of play is mixed across the 52 IBLA teams, but with former pros and experienced box players scattered around the league the games will be competitive. Players that have never played box before will have to learn the ropes quickly to have chance to help their teams win. With the US-Canadian border still closed and the Senior level leagues in Ontario and British Columbia cancelled, many talented players will look to join an IBLA team so they can still play box lacrosse this summer. The top teams that will play at the IBLA Nationals will be very good and could likely compete with Canadian Senior teams.
Looking at the bigger picture, this is potentially a key moment in the box lacrosse arms race between Canada and the US leading up to the next World Indoor Championships in 2023 as well as for the sport as a whole.
The IBLA is a true box lacrosse league. With GMs, tryouts, sponsors, playing in big arenas, and local media coverage each team is playing for the end goal of being the IBLA National Champion. Many of the teams are putting in the legwork to promote their games in their cities to try and grow a fanbase and the overall awareness of lacrosse. The IBLA also offers a chance for these teams to build a community around them of not only fans, but youth and Junior programs for players to start playing box at a young age. The IBLA players can pass on what they’re learning to the next generation.
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After college, it’s hard to find the same feeling of competition and camaraderie in men’s leagues or tournaments. In the IBLA, having a team identity and a group of guys to bond with will make the lacrosse communities in each city so much stronger. Not to mention that box is just a ton of fun to play thanks to the fast pace, physicality, and more reps you get compared to field lacrosse.
Perhaps the biggest upside for the league is the IBLA’s partnership with the NLL for prospect development. Several Americans get drafted to the NLL every year out of college for their excellent performance playing field lacrosse with the hopes that their skills and athleticism will translate to the NLL. It’s usually a 50/50 toss up that it will work out. Now they can prepare by playing in the IBLA to get real experience playing NLL rules and have game film of themselves to help NLL coaches make a much more informed decision.
There will be no Senior lacrosse in Ontario or British Columbia this summer and Junior teams will be limited to only a few events instead of a full season. This will make it much harder for NLL coaches to find players for the upcoming season. With the IBLA playing a full season, maybe NLL coaches will take a much closer look at the talent there as they get ready for the NLL draft and try to fill out their rosters.
Even next year when Canada’s leagues return to play, the IBLA will become a great option for Canadians or Native NLL prospects or players looking for a team to play for especially with the draw of living in cities like San Diego, Tampa, Austin, and New York City. No longer will players have to travel all the way to Victoria, BC, Six Nations, or Peterborough, ON to experience real box lacrosse.
The NLL will soon reach 15 teams and looking toward 2021-2022 when their season gets back up and running, they will surely look to the IBLA as a resource for players and support of their league. In the next 2-4 years, I think we will see the amount of Americans playing pro indoor lacrosse doubling thanks to the opportunities leagues like the IBLA are providing.
We can’t wait to see the action unfold this summer and see who will win their regions to compete in the IBLA Nationals in Lakeland, FL.
American box lacrosse is ready to take the next step. American box lacrosse is ready for a revolution.
Looking to join or support a team? Visit https://www.iblalacrosse.com/ find out where the nearest team is to you.
Follow along with scores and stats on their digital live site: http://www.ibla.lacrosseshift.com/home
Follow them on Instagram to see updates on all of the action: https://www.instagram.com/ibla.official/