Jack Speidell, a 13-year-old lacrosse player from Port Jefferson, appreciated the irony on display at the World Series of Youth Lacrosse, played at Mile High Stadium in Colorado.
“I think it was very funny — and cool — that two Long Island teams met in Colorado for the World Series,” he said.
But it wasn’t necessarily a surprise when Team 91 Bandits and Express, two Long Island lacrosse academies, met on July 4 in the championship game of the U13 World Series of Youth Lacrosse, which aired live on ESPN2. Team 91 Bandits defeated Express, 13-9, led by Speidell’s five goals.
“Our kids showed that they’re the best in the world at their age,” said coach Joe Spallina, also the head coach of the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team and the New York Lizards, a pro team. “And I know how hard they’ve worked for it and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Spallina, who coached his older son, Joey, to the inaugural U13 World Series of Youth Lacrosse title in 2015, had twins on this year’s team: Brett, a long-stick midfielder, and Jake, who won 67.6 percent of his faceoffs and added five goals and two assists. Spallina said he finds the most enjoyment watching his sons competing and succeeding with their closest friends.
“We’ve been working together since we were in first grade,” said Jake Spallina, 13, of Mount Sinai. “We’ve been prepared for this for a while and we were just really excited to have the opportunity.”
And the players were plenty aware their championship would be on national television on an American holiday. With DVRs set on the other side of the country, the Bandits wanted to prove themselves in front of their largest audience yet.
“I think our team was very nervous at the start, with all the commotion and the cameras and the audience and being on TV,” Speidell said. “But I think the coaches and the players handled it very well.”
The Bandits went 8-0 in the three-day tournament, outscoring opponents, 96-39.
Speidell and Jack Ponzio led the team with 27 points each, with Ponzio adding three goals and an assist in the final. The two attackmen, along with Jake Spallina and defender Matt Bove, were named to the All-World team at the conclusion of the tournament. Goaltender Eric Grahn had 12 saves in the final.
“It was a really big goal for us,” said Grahn, 13, of Bayport. “It was the main focus of this summer.”
Spallina said the team treated the tournament like a business trip, practicing five days the week before, having team dinners and meetings, just like with his college team.
“It’s great to see them accomplish a goal and it’s something I think they’ll carry with themselves for the rest of their lives,” Spallina said. “And there’s a lot of great life lessons learned from an experience like this.”
Lessons, such as a reminder that with hard work comes rewards. After celebrating with their trophy, teammates and family Wednesday, the team went white water rafting in Colorado before flying back to Long Island on Thursday.
“That was really fun, just to hang out with everyone and celebrate,” Speidell said. “Just having fun.”