April 25, 2014

International Flavor Permeates MCLA Rosters

by Tim Haslam | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Yusuke Yamanaka is native of Japan who started playing lacrosse there in 2010 and plays for Utah while he attends as an exchange student. (Ben Haslam)

With the 2014 Men's World Championships just a few months away, the international lacrosse scene has taken center stage. With more than 200 teams in the MCLA, it's not hard to find an international flavor on a handful of teams. According to mcla.us, 20 players from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, England, Germany, Kenya, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Singapore and Finland are currently in the MCLA, contributing on teams from Washington to Wake Forest and everywhere in between.

Arni Lehto, a graduate student at Stanford, hails from Helsinki, Finland.

"Lacrosse is just starting to pick up in Finland and I think is mostly hockey guys who didn't make it and are looking for a new way to be competitive at a high level," said Lehto. "I don't know much as I've only been to one practice with a Finnish team. We do have a team competing in the world games this Summer."

Lehto started playing lacrosse while earning an undergraduate degree at MIT.

"I was on the basketball team, and one of the juniors on the team also played lacrosse," said Lehto. "The team was short on numbers and needed guys to be able to run full field practice if possible. I was a defensive guy in basketball, and that skill transitions pretty well to lacrosse, so I decided to give it a shot. I ended up playing the remaining three years as an undergraduate at short-stick defensive middie."

Also from Europe; Michael Marion (England/Regis), Carl Tilbury (England/UCSB), Antony Chapman (England/Iowa State), Max Hofmann (Germany/Washington), Mattias Rau (Germany/Wake Forest) and Felix Heinrich (Germany/Idaho) have come to love lacrosse in various ways.

For Chapman, curiosity sparked his interest.

"One of my friends had just started playing at another university in England and knowing nothing about the sport, I was instantly curious," said Chapman.

Rau, who is pursuing an MBA from Wake Forest, spent a year in high school in Virginia. His dorm master was the boys lacrosse coach and he convinced Rau to try out for the team. Rau made the Varsity B team and then took his experience back to Germany and started to play for his local University club team.

Another exchange student from Germany, Heinrich started playing in Colorado while in high school.

"In Germany, lacrosse is far less known than here in the US," said Heinrich. "We have a total of 46 teams which are all sports clubs - no high school teams, a couple of university club teams but no collegiate league. They compete in the first and second German league. These two are each divided into four regional divisions. Many of my teammates picked the sport up during a year abroad in the US but the number of people joining the club who have only seen it in Germany is rising."

One of the biggest areas for international lacrosse growth has been Asia. Korea boasts Sang Hyan Bae (Washington-St. Louis) and Sung Mo Ku (Claremont). Edward See Kuala (UC San Diego) and Aidin Massoumi (UC San Diego) both hail from Singapore. Tavin Olarnsakul (Claremont) is from Thailand and Michael Sui (Washington-St. Louis) calls China home while teammate Wayne Chung is from Taiwan.

Japan is the home country of Shun Yamaguchi (Washington), Ryo Takahashi (Benedictine), Masato Terajima (Benedictine) and Yusuke Yamanaka (Utah).

"[Lacrosse] is getting bigger in Japan," said Yamaguchi. "Every year one of the NCAA D-I teams come to Japan to have an international match with the Japan national squad and other college teams including my former school. Since there are few high school teams, most of the players start playing lacrosse in college. Therefore lacrosse is regarded as a 'college sport' in Japan."

Yamaguchi is a sophomore attackman and has registered 3 goals and 2 assists on the season. Yamanaka is a senior midfielder attending the University of Utah as an exchange student.

"I started playing lacrosse at Hosei University in Tokyo, Japan in September of 2010," said Yamanaka. "I liked contact sports because I used to play American Football in high school and I thought this could be a nice change."

Two other MCLA players, Terence Ouma (Kenya/Palm Beach Atlantic) and Andrew Moreland (Mexico/Montana) have also found homes on MCLA rosters.

As the MCLA and lacrosse in general continues to grow and flourish, so will it's international talent, making the lacrosse community an international community.

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