To get an idea of the respect level the Force Lacrosse Club had heading into the U15 U.S. National Championships, all the players and coaches had to do was to look at their opponent before the first match.
The Dukes, a widely-respected club program out of Philadelphia, never warmed up. The team stayed under its canopy, presumably, to protect themselves from the Orlando, Fla., sun.
After all, Dukes had a team from Arizona in the first round so the match would serve as a good warm-up for the rest of the weekend.
The Force took advantage of the perceived slight and routed the Dukes 9-1 on the way to winning three straight matches to qualify out of pool play and earn the fourth overall seed in the 27-team event.
"We stunned some people and won pretty easy," Force assistant coach Matt Rakowski said. "We were the talk of the tournament and by the end everyone was taking us serious."
The Force, which includes nine Ahwatukee Foothills residents, lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion FLG out of New Jersey.
Couple that performance with winning the high school division at the Denver Shootout in June and all of a sudden the national lacrosse community is realizing there are some quality players and teams from Arizona.
"We didn't know what to expect (at nationals) because there hadn't been an Arizona team there before," Desert Vista sophomore Anthony Abbadessa said. "I think we definitely changed some people's minds and hopefully they know Arizona is the real deal and that we are just as dedicated to the sport as anyone else."
The players were motivated by the reactions opponents had when they found out where they were from before the tournament started.
"They just kind of laughed at us and now I think they have a little more respect for Arizona," Abbadessa said. "They looked past us but we came out and beat some pretty good teams."
The Force also defeated teams from Jacksonville, Fla., and Chicago to earn the fourth seed.
The roster definitely had a Ahwatukee Foothills flavor as Rakowski, originally from Long Island, N.Y., is an assistant for Desert Vista's high school club team, while the team was filled with players from the Thunder's squad.
Max Jensen, Ryan Lewis, Chris Loken, Lance Pavlina, Stephen Votto, Cade van Raaphorst and David Zingale join Abbadessa as Desert Vista students.
Mountain Pointe was represented by Mitchell Fraboni.
Almost all of them got their start under Rakowski for the Ahwatukee Dragons youth team he started in 2005.
"It is great seeing these kids continuing on and being successful," Rakowski said. "This is all about the kids sticking with a sport that doesn't get a lot of support. They really have come into their own."
The roster also included players from Brophy, Chaparral and Corona del Sol.
The key for the Thunder contingent will be to build off the success from the Force and have it bleed into the attitude of the Thunder over the next few years.
"DV is going to have quite a few good players," said van Raaphorst, an incoming freshman who is the son of former Arizona State quarterback Jeff van Raaphorst. "We have a good core and we proved we could play against some of the best in the nation."
Pavlina, a sophomore, said the future is bright not only at DV but Arizona as a whole.
"I think we put Arizona on the map," he said. "By the end everyone knew where we were from. It's going to lead to more exposure from college coaches and some Division I scholarships."
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