It was an incredible ending to a banner year for Roots’ Youth Box Lacrosse League (YBLL). On Monday night, three improbable champions were crowned in the USBOXLA-sanctioned league at the Tri-County Sports Complex in Macedon, NY.
“I am thrilled with the results of the Youth Box Lacrosse League this year,” said Roots Box Lacrosse Founder and Director Brad Gillies. “A ton of kids took part in it. They all got better; they all had fun. There were a lot of smiles throughout (the season).”
A record 170 kids, across three age groups, completed the eight-week YBLL, which was powered by the Rochester Knighthawks. The season came to close with the third-place and title games. In the championship games, it was the Year of the Upset with all three lower seeds earning victories.
The Pee Wee Division set the tone for the evening as the Knighthawks green team knocked off the previously unbeaten Roots white club, 9-8. The K-Hawks, who were coached by Knighthawk Ryland Rees and former National Lacrosse League standout Pat Cougevan, used seven goals from MVP Avery Valenti to capture the win.
Valenti sparked a 3-0 run late in the second half, which countered a similar run by the Roots team. The rally staked the Knighthawks to a 9-7 lead with 4:32 to play. The league’s leading scorer, James Holbrough, added a goal with 1:10 to play to give his team a chance to tie the game in the final minute. However, a kick save by Ayden Szymanski-Koontz preserved the win and finish the game with 19 stops.
Valenti opened the contest with three first-half goals to give the second-place team a 4-2 lead. Holbrough and Donavan Fraher each notched goals for Roots. The deficit remained two goals early in the second, when Roots mounted a comeback.
Holbrough’s diving goal from behind the net at 7:55 got his team within one at 6-5. Phil Tangredi, who notched two goals and three assists, tied the contest with a rocket off the far pipe. Grant Lewis then gave Roots its first lead of the night when he tallied at 12:44.
That set the stage for an exciting finish as the Knighthawks would score three of the game’s final four goals to earn the victory.
The Bantam Division featured an incredible championship run by the Knighthawks grey team. After going 0-4 during the regular season, the team pulled together and rode back-to-back superb efforts from goalie John Buck to the championship. Buck, who played for Team USBOXLA at Nationals this past summer, was named the most valuable player as he backstopped his team’s 5-2 win in a 24-save performance.
“They’ve taken a huge step in the right direction,” said Knighthawks grey team coach Donny Moss. “The first game we scored just one goal. The next week we went into overtime; the next week, we lost by one goal. Last week we won, and tonight we won the championship. The boys became coachable and bought in.”
The Knighthawks, who edged the No. 1 seeded Roots white team in the semifinals, used a balanced scoring attack to topple the No. 2 seeded Knighthawks green team in the finals. Reid Doolittle, Ryan Pedro, Nicholas Ange, Braden Gioseffi and Brayden Stearns all scored for the champs.
In the hotly-contested championship game, the Knighthawks grey team led from start to finish. The Knighthawks green side kept chipping away at the deficit as they trailed 2-1 at half and 3-2 with 13 minutes to play. But with Buck shutting the door on every outside shot and several breakaways, the green team never found the equalizer.
Gioseffi, who’s dad, Dave, coached his team, scored an insurance goal with 7:22 to play, and Stearns raced through the slot and scored with four minutes to play to give the Knighthawks grey team an insurmountable three-goal lead.
The victorious team was coached by Dave Gioseffi, and former Team USA box player Donny Moss, and Knighthawks goalie Rylan Hartley. Hartley, who was coaching for the first time in the YBLL, was impressed with the maturation the players experienced during the season.
“I had a lot of fun,” he said. “It was great coming out every week and seeing the improvement in the kids and how much they were enjoying it. It was a little competitive between Ryland and me. It was always nice going home to the apartment and talking about [the games] and joking around.”
The High School Division victory by the Roots white team was sweet revenge. After losing twice to the undefeated Knighthawks green team during the regular season, Roots won the biggest matchup of the season, 6-2, to win the top division crown.
“We lost to that team twice earlier in the regular season, one time by a couple of goals and the next time in a shootout,” said coach Bradley Voigt. “We came out strong from the beginning, had a lead at halftime and kept it going through the second half. These guys were excited about this game and came out and won it all.”
Austyn Kelly earned MVP honors for his head work and two-goal effort in the YBLL semifinal game, which put his club in the finals.
In the championship game, the Roots team was led by Brady Ruffalo’s four-point effort (2+2), while Alec Constable tallied a pair of goals. It was Ruffalo who powered his team in the first half, collecting all his points in the opening 20 minutes. Roots fought off an early goal by the Knighthawks’ CJ Palmiere to take a 5-1 lead after the opening stanza.
“The team worked together, and we came out on top,” said Ruffalo. “We worked the ball around and got the play moving. We were finishing our checks, playing amazing defense, and our goalie was insane.”
The second half was a showcase of defense and goaltending as Kyle Meagher (Roots) and Will Dempsey (Knighthawks), both veterans of the Jr. Knighthawks program, each allowed just one goal. Dempsey finished the night with 18 saves, while Meagher stopped 22.
“Kyle played outstanding,” said Voigt. “I think it was his best game this season, by far. He had confidence all year and stood on his head tonight.”
The High School game capped off an amazing season of the YBLL, which saw an additional two teams and 60 kids play in the USBOXLA-sanctioned league.
“It was incredible just to see the transformation that these players made over the eight weeks,” said Knighthawks defenseman and YBLL coach Ryland Rees. “Just the way the American players and teams were able to pick up the box game was incredible. I had three teams in the finals. One team won, but every team played great. It was just great to see the change that the players are making.”
Champs and MVPs
Pee Wee Division (coaches Ryland Rees and Pat Cougevan)
MVP: Avery Valenti
Bantam Division (coaches Donny Moss, Dave Gioseffi and Rylan Hartley)
MVP: John Buck
High School Division (coach Bradley Voigt)
MVP: Austyn Kelly