The Lizards will be well represented at Saturday’s Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game, as they’ll send five players and head coach Joe Spallina to Cal State Fullerton to compete in the midseason event.
Greg Gurenlian, Joe Fletcher, Rob Pannell, Jojo Marasco and Paul Rabil will suit up for the 7 p.m. game at Titan Stadium — but they won’t all be on the same side.
Gurenlian, Fletcher, Marasco and Rabil will play for the Riptide, coached by Spallina. Pannell will play for the Rolling Thunder.
League coaches and general managers vote for which players should take part in the game, but the teams themselves are decided by the winners of the MLL Ultimate Fan Fantasy contest.
The fantasy draft makes for some interesting scenarios, like how Pannell, an attacker, might have to go toe-to-toe with Fletcher, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
“Fletch covers me in practice,” Pannell said. “He’s obviously an incredible talent. If he gets matched up on me, I’m sure we’ll have some fun. No one knows me as well as he does.”
Rabil said he doesn’t mind the format, which has been in place since 2011, though he acknowledged that the game’s previous iterations — Team USA vs. MLL All-Stars, Young Guns vs. Old School, etc. — had a more intense feel.
Pannell hopes that one day the league will be able to have a more traditional All-Star Game, one in which teams are divided based on geography or conferences.
“I think it’s great to get the fans involved in any way possible, but I think the ultimate goal is to have what other professional sports do,” he said. “It would create more of a rivalry game and allow players to take it a little more seriously.”
Regardless of the rosters, both Rabil and Pannell are excited for the opportunity to spread MLL to California, which hasn’t had teams in the league since the close of the 2008 season. Rabil said that California is a prime place for MLL to expand.
“It’s definitely special being out West,” he said “When I was first in the league back in 2008, there was a Los Angeles team and a San Francisco team. So I got a chance to travel out and compete in those markets, which are emerging markets in lacrosse.
“Since those teams folded, we haven’t really had a chance to go out there and showcase MLL in the West.”
Los Angeles and San Francisco folded after the 2008 season due to financial issues. The Denver Outlaws are MLL’s lone western franchise.
Commissioner David Gross, in announcing the game, said: “We believe our destiny lies in having teams on the West Coast again and this is our first step in making that happen.”
Expansion to California would behoove MLL, an organization with nine teams that still desperately needs to grow the game of lacrosse. Involving the fans in an All-Star draft is another way to raise the interest level.
And even though praise for the format isn’t universal, it’s always fun to see teammates going at it on the field.
Said Pannell: “I’m sure we’ll have a lot of laughs out there.”