Mercer Island lacrosse program to make trip to Russia

Photo courtesy of Laura Jantos Mercer Island lacrosse players Max Jantos and Will St. Mary team up with a few Mercer Island Lacrosse Club youth players during a gear drive at QFC on Mercer Island on July 15. The Islanders boys lacrosse team will visit Russia from From July 27 through Aug. 8.

Members of the Mercer Island boys lacrosse team will partake in a trip of a lifetime this summer overseas.

The Islanders, who captured second place in the Washington High School Boys Lacrosse 3A state tournament this past May, will travel to Russia as a team from July 27 through Aug. 8. The purpose of the trip is for Islanders athletes to not only play lacrosse with Russian teams, but simultaneously teach and develop the sport of lacrosse with the youth of Russia as well. The Islanders lacrosse club has been invited by the Russian Lacrosse Federation and men’s lacrosse clubs from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Mercer Island lacrosse club program director Ian O’Hearn, who has also been the Islanders varsity lacrosse head coach for the past 16 years, said his team has gone to Victoria, Canada each season, but has never traveled to another continent.

“I think it is a unique experience for our players. First of all, they will get the international experience of lacrosse in another country but also gain the cultural experience as well. I think it’s really good for the development of the sport in other countries. I think by us going there, we’re going to help bring exposure for the sport of lacrosse developing in Russia. It is great growing the game in other parts of the world,” O’Hearn said. “The fact we are going across the world for a trip is huge. It will build team chemistry and will be good for team bonding. It is a sport they love, and they are getting to teach the sport to kids in another country. It is going to be really cool.”

O’Hearn’s players are excited about the opportunity to share their lacrosse knowledge and expertise in Russia. Islanders lacrosse player Max Thilen said during his childhood, lacrosse wasn’t as popular as it is today, and he wants to help continue the growth of the sport.

“Growing up, I always had great leaders that helped me learn the sport that I loved. Being able to spread the love of lacrosse, and especially in a different country, is a really cool opportunity that I will probably only get once in my lifetime,” Thilen said.

Mercer Island defender Derrick Hicks concurred with Thilen’s sentiment.

“We have a lot of events that we will be doing. We are not only teaching the kids about lacrosse, but we are also learning about the culture there. It should be pretty fun,” Hicks said.

Max Jantos, who traveled to Russia in the summer of 2016, can’t wait to share his knowledge of lacrosse during the course of the trip as opposed to being a tourist.

“It is going to be really cool going back. This time, I’m going to be coming at it from a very different angle. I’m actually going to be meeting and working with the people there. That is going to be really cool,” Jantos said.

Junior Donnie Howard is one of those players with immediate family ties to Russia. His mother Loulia is from Russia and speaks Russian fluently.

“I haven’t been there in years. I don’t really remember much from Russia but I’m excited to see my family and also teach the game of lacrosse. I think it is going to be very interesting to try to teach the sport to people who don’t speak the same language as you. Visuals are going to be very key to our success,” Howard said. “I know a little bit of Russian myself. I’m going to do my best to understand and try to translate to the rest of the team members. It is going to be something we are going to have to face.”

Howard’s mother Loulia played a pivotal role in making the Islanders trip to Russia a reality. Loulia said plans for the trip this summer began more than 12 months ago.

“It is going to be the first US (United States) lacrosse team of any caliber actually traveling to Russia. We are making history. It is huge and is very exciting,” Loulia said. “We are going to bring lacrosse to this country (Russia). This is something special for the entire (lacrosse) program.”