MMA, SVYL put aside rivalry to form new team
By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- The rivalry was real when Massanutten Military Academy's club boys lacrosse team faced their varsity-level rivals from the Shenandoah Valley Youth Lacrosse league in games last year.
That makes perfect sense, of course, considering that the majority of that SVYL teams -- the Southern Division Sabers -- came from surrounding schools in Shenandoah County. So sure, the rivalry was real enough. That doesn't mean it was hostile, which is fortunate considering that the two teams have now joined forces to play this season.
"I was open to it," said MMA senior Stefan Vasic, a co-captain on the squad. "When we played them last year we had a little bit of a rivalry, but there was never any bad blood between us."
That move came by necessity -- the SVYL squad, even when combined with the remnants of the Northern Division Vipers, simply didn't have enough players to field a full team this year. MMA had its own problems with numbers, and the Colonels were also left without a coach when program founder Curt Evans left to take an out-of-state job.
Rather than not play, MMA athletics director Melvin Abrams decided to approach the SVYL -- which draws players as far north as Winchester on down to New Market -- about potentially joining forces for the season.
"Pretty much our lacrosse program has been a club team, anyway," Abrams said. "The conference we're a part of in most other sports didn't necessarily have enough lacrosse programs for competition within the league.
"For the sake of the kids, we thought it would be a good idea to partner up to give those kids the opportunity to play lacrosse."
The result is a sort of hodgepodge program. The head coach, Todd Cook, coached the SVYL's Vipers last season, and his assistants all come from the SVYL. Most of the players from that league, approximately half the roster, come from the Sabers. MMA's remaining players fill out the other half of the roster, and home matches and practices are held on at the academy's Gordon D. Bowman Stadium.
"It's been a great arrangement," Cook said, "having practices there at MMA in Woodstock, which is kind of a central point for everybody.
"It's been perfect so far. Everybody has just been meeting there, and we've got a good group of kids and four volunteer coaches."
Cook, the former head coach for Osbourn High School's varsity boys lacrosse team, didn't even make it through a full season last year with the Vipers as the team couldn't maintain a roster deep enough to play out the year. That shouldn't be a problem now. The team, mainly playing as MMA, will have between 20 to 25 players with "a pretty even split" among SVYL and MMA players.
There are other pluses to the arrangement. Rather than cancel one schedule or the other, Abrams and the SVYL worked to combine the two slates into one expanded season for the team. Currently, the team has a 13-game schedule for the season.
The team features two senior captains in MMA's Vasic and the SVYL's Jacob Lineberry, who attends nearby Central.
"It's gone more smoothly than I thought it would," Vasic said. "We started playing together right from the start."
Abrams has heard similar sentiments from the MMA cadets who are participating this year.
"It's working pretty well," Abrams said. "From what I hear from our kids, it's exciting to actually develop a team with some kids you don't necessarily go to school with.
"It's a testament to the fact that Massanutten Military Academy as well as Shenandoah Valley Youth Lacrosse is concerned about the kids, first and foremost. We felt like it was a win-win. You have a roster full of happy kids, and that's what it's about."
There is the potentially sticky situation about uniforms. For most matches this season, the team will don the purple and gold colors of MMA and play as the Colonels. But for a few matches, the MMA players will trade in those jerseys and play in the SVYL Sabers' orange.
"That's the plan right now," Cook said. "I think for most of the games, we'll wear MMA uniforms. We still want to have a little bit of our club remaining. That's why we'll utilize our club uniforms for some games."
Vasic doesn't mind, stating he "looks great in orange."
You won't hear Lineberry complaining about the MMA jersey, either.
"For me, this is my seventh year playing lacrosse and I've just really developed a love for the game," Lineberry said. "It doesn't really matter what jersey I wear as long as I get to play."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>