Area youths play in lacrosse tourney

New Jersey all-star team goes 1-5 in learning experience

By: Justin Feil
   With the end of the spring season, there are only so many opportunities for 12-year-olds to work on their lacrosse skills in a team environment.
   But three area players are taking advantage of every chance they get.
   Sam Hayes, Fred Mittnacht and Sean Stiefel all made the New Jersey team that played in the 2000 U.S. Lacrosse Youth Festival in Troy, N.Y., held in late June. And the three have continued to improve their skills by attending lacrosse summer camps.
   "I did the Princeton (University) camp, and I’m going to Top Gun," said Stiefel of the Vermont camp he left for Saturday. "Princeton was pretty good and I’m going to another Princeton camp and The Peddie School camp in August."
   Hayes was also away this week at a camp and Mittnacht was in the Adirondacks. The three played for different teams in the spring but came together to represent New Jersey, which went 1-5 against much older and stronger competition that should make them better in the long run.
   "It was definitely worth the trip," said Stiefel, a West Windsor resident. "The competition was something I’ve never experienced before. It was extremely physical."
   Playing in the under-13 division (there is also a U15 division), the New Jersey squad was young enough that there is talk of keeping mostly the same team for next year… in the same age division.
   "It was much greater competition than I was used to," said Stiefel, who played in the spring for the West Windsor Lightning. "We played against kids much older than us and they were much bigger. It made it tougher, but it makes you want to get better."
   The midfielder was able to score a goal in New Jersey’s 4-1 win against New Hampshire in the first game of the tournament. Down 1-0 at halftime, New Jersey rallied as Hayes, who played this spring for the Princeton Lacrosse Association’s sixth-grade team, put in the go-ahead goal in the second half. New Jersey could have earned a tie in another game but a shot that struck the inside of the post – normally a goal – wasn’t seen.
   "Playing with Fred and Sam was fun," Stiefel said. "We (the Lightning) weren’t that good of a team. We didn’t have a lot of the fundamentals down. All of these kids (on the all-star team) were really good.
   "There were tryouts for it," he added. "There were 80 kids there, so it was pretty hard. You didn’t have that much time to show yourself so you had to do your best when you were in. I was extremely happy to make it."
   The 22 players who made up the New Jersey team stuck out because of their outstanding stickwork. Hayes biggest asset is his ability to shield defenders from the ball and draw penalties. Stiefel said his own specialty is face-offs.
   New Jersey did its best at the tournament under the circumstances. Several of the other states represented at the tournament had practiced together far more than the Garden State squad, which had just two sessions together. In comparison, the Michigan team had 10 practices together and the Colorado contingent had played three tournaments previously together.
   But the tournament experience along with the summer camps will allow the area players to develop further. Stiefel will be a seventh grader at the Grover Middle School where he’ll be able to play this coming school year. He’s already come a long way since he began playing when he was nine.
   "I started in fourth grade, but there wasn’t really a fourth-grade team," Stiefel remembered. "I didn’t feel like one of the better kids then, but I guess I do now."
   That’s just what playing for a New Jersey all-star team and attending some top summer camps can do for any budding lacrosse star. So far, it’s worked fine for Stiefel, Hayes and Mittnacht.