In just its third year, Naptown Challenge already a mid-summer lax fixture; Koopers represents Maryland in the finals

by Nelson Coffin

The explosion of high school and youth boys lacrosse teams traveling to Annapolis this week for the third annual Naptown National Challenge mirrors the tremendous growth of the sport nationwide.

When current Chesapeake Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle and HoganLax Founder and CEO Matt Hogan put their vast knowledge of — and many connections to — the national lacrosse community, they came up with the idea to stage a tournament in July that would become a staple of the summer tournament circuit.

“Matt runs a bunch of tournaments (through HoganLax),” Cottle said. “And I thought there was room for another high-end tournament.”

Gauging from the interest he drew from fellow coaches, who helped to spread the word, Cottle’s assessment that a mid-July gathering would fit perfectly into the sport’s summer calendar was spot-on.

Staring with just 46 teams in 2016, the Naptown Challenge more than doubled to 96 teams last year and mushroomed to 150 in 2018, drawing 3,000 players to play on 28 fields over three days at four sites in and around the state capitol, including Kent Island, South River and Annapolis high schools and Davidsonville Park.

Championship games, including the final in the 2021 graduating year bracket between Kooper’s Lacrosse, of Hunt Valley, and Charlotte-based Team Carolina, were held in the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Wednesday.

Unfortunately for the kids from Kooper’s, it was just not their day.

Team Carolina MVP Sean Dow (Christ School) dominated at the faceoff X and five teammates scored two goals each as the visitors prevailed, 11-4.

Gage Turner (Ardrey Kell High School) turned away eight shots in the Team Carolina goal to keep Kooper’s frustrated throughout the hot and sunny afternoon.

The only damage Kooper’s could manage against the stingy Team Carolina defense were two goals by Charlie Pope (Gilman) and one each by Diminic Pietramala (Boys’ Latin) and Truitt Sunderland (Calvert Hall).

“We just didn’t play well today,” said Ron Klausner, who assisted Chris Smith on the Kooper’s sideline. “If we had continued to do what we did during the tournament, we would have done much better. But their goalie made three or four saves early that really took us out of our game.”

Still Klausner said that the team “was honored and humbled” to play in the tournament.

He added that he likes the Naptown Challenge format that allows teams which lose on the first day of competition to still have time to make amends.

Cottle said that the forgiving nature of the format is a twist that has worked well.

“We use the results from the first day just to seed the teams,” Cottle said, rather than allowing early losses to knock a team from a potential playoff berth.

On Monday night, the players were invited to attend a banquet at the stadium.

“We fed all 3,000 of them,” Cottle said.

Speakers at the event included Maryland coach John Tillman, Denver coach Bill Tierney, Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala and Syracuse coach John Desko.

Pictured above: Kooper’s Lacrosse Club battled Team Carolina in the 2021 championship game, played in Navy-Marine Corp Stadium and before a regional television audience.