WESLEY CHAPEL — To kick off the new year, Wesley Chapel District Park played host to the fourth annual Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions lacrosse tournament, and for the fourth time, a Canadian team came away as champions of the Senior Elite division.
The Senior Elite title is the most prestigious prize of the tournament and a common spotting ground for college scouts.
"We don't pitch this event as a recruiting tournament, but when you have a field of teams this diverse, there are going to be people looking at how the players perform," said Kurt Dzaman, tournament director for NDP Lacrosse.
"We had Division I coaches here doing clinics, and certainly they got to see some players," Dzaman said. "In the case of Division II coaches, they don't have some of the restrictions the D-I coaches have, so some of them are watching. Also, there are video teams here compiling highlight reels of players so that they can use that to get their names out there.
"It's a tournament that you can get noticed in for sure."
The Tampa Tribe, which regularly plays at Wesley Chapel District Park, also participated in the tournament on its home turf. The Tribe's U-15 team lost in the opening round to Fort Myers by a score of 6-3. In the Rising Stars division, the Tribe lost its opener to Kanienkehaka Krunch from Mohawk Nation, the first American Indian team to compete at the tournament.
The Tampa Tribe failed to qualify for the championship playoffs in the Senior Elite division.
Toronto-based Edge Lacrosse came into the final day having cruised through the first few stages with convincing victories, before slipping by the Roughriders from Maryland in the semifinal by a score of 8-7.
The final, however, would prove to be the greatest test of Edge's championship run. The players faced Team Warrior from North Carolina in a battle that ended with Edge overcoming a three-goal deficit to win on a goal in sudden-death overtime by a score of 11-10.
"All weekend we started out really fast but the offensive power of Team Warrior was unbelievable," Edge coach Rick Webster said. "Toward the end we had to just deny their key players the ball as much as we could and try to create something ourselves. A few good ground balls by our guys and we were in business."
Edge attacker Matthew Worlidge's elation after scoring the game-winning goal was something out of a story book, as his teammates piled on in celebration before a crowd of screaming parents running onto the field. Webster began to tear up for a moment as he stepped out of the celebration to look around at the scene.
"I called the play in and they ran about the third option from it," Webster said. "Clearly, it was the right decision by the player and I know he was the first one I tried to hug."
For 17-year-old Worlidge, the game winner was one of the best moments for him as a lacrosse player.
"The opening was there and I knew I could beat that kid all day," he said. "We knew coming in that they had some good players because we'd played them before and they ripped us up. We came in expecting them to give us a challenge, and they did.
"Last year, we finished in fourth, losing the bronze medal game," Worlidge said. "So this is definitely our biggest achievement yet, and to score the game winner is awesome."
The success of Canadian teams over their American counterparts in the four tournaments held thus far is difficult to explain, but Webster tried.
"I don't know what it is, exactly," Webster said. "As far as athleticism goes, I'd say the Americans are better, but they just don't get to see enough of our style of play. We don't run that many plays. We mostly just run cuts, picks and screens. Outside of that, I honestly don't see much difference in the teams."
David Rice can be reached at [email protected]