Mercer Island lacrosse welcomes 14 powerhouses in Northwest Invitational this weekend

MIHS varsity lacrosse midfielder Spencer Tierney clears the ball after winning a faceoff during MI
MIHS varsity lacrosse midfielder Spencer Tierney clears the ball after winning a faceoff during MI's 17 - 2 win over Lakeside High School last week.
— image credit: Liz Sheilds/Contributed photo

By Linda Williams Rorem

Football fans know that the Friday Night Lights shine brightest in Texas and Florida, while lacrosse lovers understand that the sport’s hotbed is in New York – not far from where the Iroquois Native Americans invented the sport 100 years ago.

Those who can’t travel to the Empire State to watch lacrosse will be happy to know that one of the nation’s top East Coast teams is traveling to Mercer Island next week, for the MIHS boys lacrosse’s Northwest Invitational.

And the Lakeland/Panas team – New York state’s Section 1 finalist last year – isn’t the only draw to the weekend-long event, which runs March 26 through March 28. Also participating are top teams from the Portland area, Las Vegas, Boise, British Columbia (where youngsters hone their stick skills while on skates) and of course our home turf (Issaquah, Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Skyline and Curtis – in addition to Mercer Island).

“There’s going to be some great lacrosse,” says Ian O’Hearn, MIHS lacrosse coach since 2002, and founder of the Northwest Invitational. “This is the biggest sanctioned high-school lacrosse tournament west of the Mississippi.”

“High-caliber competition” is the draw out-of-state teams including the Lincoln (Portland, Ore.) program. Will Harris, head coach of Lincoln Lacrosse, notes that most of the participating teams “are sending kids on to play in formal college lacrosse programs.”

O’Hearn first organized the event in 2006 to help promote inter-regional lacrosse play and to draw teams from outside the region to the Northwest. In the first year, four teams participated – including Maine’s defending state champions. This year, 14 teams will take part, bringing the tournament to its capacity in terms of field time and available manpower.

Participating teams include Issaquah, the 2009 Washington State Champion; Timberline (Boise, Idaho), the 2009 Idaho State Champion; Lakeland/Panas (Yorktown, NY), the 2009 New York Section-1 Finalist; Mercer Island, 2009 Washington State Runner-up; Lincoln (Portland, OR), 2009 Oregon state runner-up; Claremont School (Victoria, B.C.); New Westminster (New West, B.C.); Palo Verde (Las Vegas), 2009 Nevada state runner-up; Bainbridge Island, 2009 Washington state semifinalist; Curtis (WA), 2009 Washington state semifinalist; Sunset (Portland, Ore.), 2009 Oregon state semifinalist; Lakeridge (Lake Oswego, Ore.), 2009 Oregon State quarterfinalist; Bellevue, 2009 Washington State quarterfinalist; and Skyline, 2009 Washington State quarterfinalist.

“We look forward to coming back for the great competition, the hospitality and [those] who work so hard to put on the west coast’s premier high school lacrosse tournament,” says Curt Sheinin, head coach of Lakeridge (Ore.) High School’s lacrosse team.

Teams to travel to Mercer Island for three primary reasons: for high-caliber competition early in the lacrosse season, for team bonding and to showcase talent beyond the team’s region.

As Jeff Dill, head coach of the lacrosse team at Sunset High School in Portland, Ore. says: “Our team is traveling for the opportunity for out-of-state play, and for team bonding.” He adds, “This is a great event with very solid teams. The competition will most likely [include] the toughest opponents our team will face this year.”

“This is an event that draws extremely talented lacrosse programs and for our program to start getting recognized outside of Idaho, we have to put ourselves out there,” says Tom Blanchard, head coach of Boise’s Timberline High School lacrosse team.

The Northwest Invitational also serves as a benchmark for teams early in the season, when they still have time for fine-tuning. Gary Campo, head coach of the lacrosse team at Palo Verde High School in Nevada, says that “the Invitational is great preparation for the season.”

As Coach Dill of Sunset explains: “Sunset played Mercer Island back when our now Seniors were in eighth grade, and it was by far one of the best memories they have playing a tough, well-coached, disciplined team. The players are very excited to play the best in the West and see how they stack up or what they need to do to improve in the balance of the season.”

Perhaps most important, the Invitational helps serious players get a sense of their strength outside of their region, and college recruiters can see how they stack up against other top players.

“The cast of teams….all play a high level of lacrosse that outside of a few schools in British Columbia we don't get to see as often as we would like,” says Darren Reisig, coach of Claremont High School in B.C., Canada. “We are coming away from our provincial championships earlier this month (our third title in four years) and it is fantastic to get to play the level of competition that [MIHS Coach] Ian has assembled.”

“Mercer Island is a quality program, known to college recruiters, as is Lincoln,” says Lincoln Coach Harris. “So when our kids play each other, recruiters have a sense of a player’s true potential.”

For MIHS players, the Northwest Invitational will “be a great measuring stick for our trip to New York the following week,” says Coach O’Hearn. The MIHS Varsity squad will again travel to New York State during spring break, to give the team tough competition and to showcase the players and program to East Coast observers.

For more information and a schedule of games, go to Northwest Invitational.

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