The IMG Nationals, a year-end lacrosse national championship event, concluded on Sunday with championship tournaments in the U15, U17 and U19 divisions. The competition was intense amid a windy November day at IMG Academy, with the Atlanta Crush (U15), Thunder Tribe (U17) and IMG Academy (U19) bringing home the titles.
The U19 division came down a rematch in the final between the Ponte Vedra Possums and IMG Academy, who met earlier in the month at the annual Veteran’s Cup. Both teams entered the game as the top-two seeds with undefeated records in pool play the day prior. Though it was a closer final score than before, the outcome was the same, with IMG Academy besting Ponte Vedra by a final of 10-3.
“The key this weekend was a lot of teamwork and a lot of transition on the ball – we were a little sloppy early on, but our kids got it together and made a lot of great plays to finish it out,” remarked IMG Academy Defensive Coordinator Jason Basso after the win. “The kids really stepped their game up and played really well, and to see the evolution of this team over the fall and coming together has been great to see as we move forward toward the spring.”
Basso added: “The combination of Ben French and Jonathan Thelen working that two-man game together has been nearly unstoppable, but then Nick Katz, Tyler Liotta ad Cougar Kirby stepped up, and then Parker Smith did an incredible job in goal.”
The event marked the Ascenders’ first opportunity to play inside of the recently completed stadium this fall, and the team made the most of it with their second fall tournament title on the year. For the seniors who helped build the team through its inaugural season, this championship carries special significance.
“The team played great, it was really a team effort and it’s a great feeling to finish the fall season really strong and we couldn’t have done it without everyone here contributing,” said senior midfielder Nick Katz. “We did what we do in practice, everything we’ve trained for and we carried it onto the field… we’re going to carry this momentum into the spring.”
IMG Academy knocked off Team Louisiana in the semifinal, 13-3 to earn the berth into the final. Their opponent, the Ponte Vedra Possums entered the final coming off a 12-1 win over the Augusta Patriots.
The IMG Nationals marked the finale of IMG Academy’s fall season, and will return to action in the spring.
The game of lacrosse finds its roots deep through the annals of Native American history in northeast North America. In the U17 division, the Thunder Tribe of Six Nations played the game as if they themselves had invented it. They were simply untouchable, running roughshod through the competition on both days. They capped off their central Florida conquest with a 14-4 victory over the West Cobb Chargers (Ga.) in Sunday’s final.
“We train pretty hard and we knew what we were getting into playing in this tournament, and the boys really rose to the occasion as they tend to do when we’re playing for a championship,” said Thunder Tribe Head Coach Willie Skye. “We practiced hard, we did what we did – what we came down here to do. We just wanted to move the ball and be disciplined in our shots with lots of ball movement.”
Hailing from the Six Nations territory that spans between upstate New York and Ontario, Canada, the Thunder Tribe was simply unstoppable. On Saturday, they made a statement with a 43-10 combined margin of victory over teams in pool play, and picked up where they left off on Sunday, with a combined score of 28-4 in the semifinal and final games. They entered the title game coming off a 14-0 win over Ohio’s Blackjack Elite.
“The win today was fun – our team isn’t all about running certain plays, we just go by feel and our coaches let us play and do what we want; most of us have played together long enough to have that connection,” said Thunder Tribe attackman Tehoka Nanticoke of the team’s chemistry. “All we do is have fun, and we play in all these different tournaments and try to have as much fun with it as we can.”
The first title awarded at the IMG Nationals was in the U15 division when the Florida Extreme and Atlanta Crush met up in the finale. Each team had their struggles on Saturday, going 2-1 and 1-2 in pool play, respectively. Head-to-head the day prior, the Extreme won 11-9. However, they found themselves on a hard-fought collision course with one another. With a shot at redemption in the final, the Atlanta Crush would not be denied, and overcame the Florida Extreme 11-7 for the U15 National Championship.
“It means a great deal to win this, and it was such a great facility and we’re honored to be a part of it,” exclaimed Steve Anderson of the Atlanta Crush. “They key to victory was working the ball and teamwork.”
The Crush have proven their effective teamwork and workmanlike attention to detail with their tournament results. On the year, the IMG Nationals marked their fourth overall title, and sixth finals appearance.
“First off, I’m so glad we made it here, and that we made it to the second day and all we wanted to do is make it to the championship and win, and that’s what we did,” said Crush Goalkeeper Blake Heyer of Canton, Ga. “It was our fourth title, but it’s always a new experience.”
The Atlanta Crush prevailed over a tough path to the title. They edged out Team Crease (Ga.) in an early morning matchup by a score of 8-5. Atlanta followed up with a crushing defeat of Ohio’s Blackjack Elite, 16-2 prior to their appearance in the final.
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