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Championship team is face of Forest lacrosse boom

By Mike Forster

 

A phoenix rises from ashes.

These guys rose from less than that.

But a mere a gleam in someone's eye half a decade ago, a Forest-based lacrosse team has been birthed, raised and grown to prominence in startlingly rapid fashion.

The U15 (15 years of age and under) team of the Forest Youth Athletic Activities organization capped its remarkable run by posting an 11-3 record and winning the Southwest Virginia Lacrosse League Tournament.

To say the team's trajectory is solid is to understate.

The majority of the team came together in 2009 as part of a brand new boys' U11 team at the FYAA.  Two years prior,  boys' U13 and U15 teams had been established, giving the sport a toe-hold in Bedford County.

Since then, FYAA has added a pair of girls team (U11 and U15) and a U9 boys team, in addition to the U11 boys.

The U15 boys, however, have brought home the goodies, providing a rallying point for a region that seems to have been bitten with the Lax bug.

The title seems to be a fitting reward for a group that started out on an uncertain trail.

The team has a core of about ten players that were part of the initial U11 team.  That group was coached by Gary Rupert, who has advanced with the team up to the U15 level.

"I've seen the boys get better each season," said Rupert.  "Each kid has gotten better; not just year-to-year, but within the season itself."

Rupert, who grew up playing lacrosse in the lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore, continued to play the game after graduating from Johns Hopkins (where he played football).  

Now, he's experiencing the excitement that comes not only from growing a program, but from watching his team hoist a championship trophy.

To get to that point, the Forest lads had to overcome some significant obstacles.

First, the team has drawn even with teams from Roanoke, Salem and Lynchburg, squads that used to pump up their records on the greenish Forest crew.

That they've attained parity is certainly reflected in that aforementioned regular-season record.

The big challenge came in the tournament.  There, the Forest team faced Lexington, a team that had won all of its regular-season matches, including a pair of wins over Forest.

While the Lexington wins weren't dominating (7-4 and 5-3), it still seemed as though the Forest guys had an albatross around their collective neck:  one named Lexington.

Showing nothing but heart (and a superb defensive effort), Forest managed a 2-2 tie in the pool play portion of the tournament.  "I guess we played a more complete game," assessed Coach Rupert.

The tie was a huge moral victory for Rupert's charges.  More importantly, it put the team into the championship game, against New River Valley.

The Forest crew spotted the Newbies a 3-2 lead going into the halftime break.  Whatever funk they were in wasn't going to last all game long, though.  "In the second half, the boys weren't going to let it get away from them," recalled Rupert.  "They came out fired up and ready to go win it."

Indeed, fired up may be an understatement by the coach.  His team went on a 9-2 scoring tear in the second half, easily pulling off the 11-5 victory.

The team that other squads once looked forward to kicking around was now the one flexing the muscle.

The win makes the decision to start up a lacrosse club at Jefferson Forest High School seem like a sound one, as many players from the U15 team will be eligible for the high school team.

The win also helps validate Forest's spot in lacrosse.

"Winning the championship gives the sport some recognition in this area," noted Rupert.  "Hopefully, it'll open some eyes to lacrosse in Forest."