08/24/2018 10:35 AM
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It sounds crazy to say, considering what he just went through, but Justin Napolitano had never played in a box lacrosse game when he was first asked to try out for the U.S. team at the World Junior Lacrosse Championship.
The Team 91 2016 alum by way of Sachem East, who earned USILA Honorable Mention All-American honors a year ago as a close defenseman at Adelphi, hadn't even touched a short stick since he was first introduced to lacrosse as a youngster. Since then, he'd exclusively manned the defensive end with a long pole, but U.S. assistant coach Ryan Wheeler saw him play on the field this spring and asked him to try out for the team in Boston.
"I went to Boston and tried out, and they called me two weeks later and said that I made it," Napolitano explained. "I was very interested, but I couldn't do the exhibition games, so I only started playing at the tournament in Canada. My first box game was against the Iroquois, which was unbelievable. They had some kids that were 16 or 17 years old that were unreal. They're not even going to college. They're going right to the NLL draft, and it was crazy."
USA finished third in the tournament behind the Iroquois and champion Canada, but more importantly, the tournament made for a life-changing experience for Napolitano. That was augmented even further when he found out that he was named to the tournament's All-World team as the lone American to earn a nod. For not knowing how to play the game, he made some big adjustments and acquitted himself just fine.
"It's definitely a way different game than I've ever played before. Honestly, I had no idea how I'd play, especially with not knowing most of the rules," Napolitano said. "I was learning as I was going and asking a lot of questions. I never expected it to be like this. With not having a long pole, it's not about throwing as many checks as it is about more footwork. I throw whatever checks I can, whenever I can in field, but this was different, and it also helped me work on my offensive game and stick skills."
Strangely enough, Napolitano went from never playing box to thinking about how bright of a future he has in the sport.
"It got me excited and got me to think what I can do if I keep playing box. I had a coach come up to me after the first game telling me that he wanted me to play for them next summer, and I had two or three more come over later on. It's going to make a big impact in where I want to play after college, too. I got very attached to box throughout the week that I was in Canada." We were in Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), and it was the best lacrosse experience I've had," Napolitano added. "They love box lacrosse up there, and people would see our suits and pins and ask for autographs and photos. Wearing the USA jersey was memorable and it's something I'll never forget, and I think of all the people watching on the Internet and the good luck texts beforehand. It was unbelievable."
It's just getting started.