For the love of lacrosse: A history of the game’s growth in Eagle County
Vail Valley Lacrosse Club
Lacrosse is a game that originated in the Iroquois nation nearly 1,000 years ago. Over the centuries, thousands of Native Americans played games lasting days trying to score on goals that were miles apart. Young tribal members watched their elders compete and bond while playing a game that was gifted to them from the Creator. Lacrosse has always held significant cultural and spiritual importance for the Iroquois. Over the past few decades, lacrosse has grown from the six nations of the Iroquois to over 1 million players competing worldwide. While the game has changed dramatically since its creation, the culture of gratitude and giving back to the sport still exists to this day.
Over 10 years ago, a local group of dedicated parents came together to support and grow the game of lacrosse in Eagle County. Mike Miner, a devoted parent and passionate sports enthusiast who played midfield at Delaware, was one of those parents. Miner wholeheartedly believed then, as he does now, that lacrosse is a special game in which there is an inherent culture about giving back to the sport. He also believed that lacrosse should be available to all who want to play it. Other parents agreed and they organized the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club.
Miner became the director of lacrosse while another parent, John “JC” Cole, brought his organizational skills and strength and conditioning expertise to get the club off the ground. Several other parents volunteered countless hours to make the club a success. Former director of lacrosse Chris Bivona, an All-American at Skidmore College, gave back to the sport by becoming a Vail Valley Lacrosse Club coach before becoming the director of lacrosse. His efforts contributed to him winning the 2017 U.S. Lacrosse Colorado Athletic Director of the Year. The club’s current director, Brian Welch, was a first team All-State midfielder at Cherry Creek High School before signing with Division I Butler University where he was nominated as a team captain his junior and senior years. He was a Vail Valley Lacrosse Club coach and contributed to several successful seasons before becoming the director of lacrosse.
Several volunteer parent coaches, many of them former collegiate players, continue to generously give back to the sport by coaching and mentoring local young athletes.
The culture of coming together and giving back is alive and well not only in our lacrosse community, but also throughout Eagle County. During the past several months, people have endured unimaginable heartbreaks. At a time when so many feel a sense of loss, our community has come together to support one another. Like many other local organizations, the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club is facing tough times, but we are grateful for all that the sport has given. Lacrosse has brought people together, young and old, to celebrate a game that has endured hundreds of years and will continue to thrive in the future.
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Celebrating Vail Valley Lacrosse Club alumni
The futures of several Eagle County children have been positively impacted through the game of lacrosse. The Vail Valley Lacrosse Club would like to celebrate all of the kids, past and present, that have been a part of the program. Several young men and women played in the club’s early days and credit the sport, along with the club, for helping guide them through high school and beyond. Many of these athletes have come back to coach for the club, truly fostering the culture of giving back.
We would like to recognize some of these local athletes. One standout, Philip Petersen, an Eagle Valley High School 2020 graduate, will be attending Howard Community College in Baltimore, Maryland, and playing midfield. Prior to leaving for college, Petersen played in the local men’s league and coached box and indoor lacrosse for Vail Valley Lacrosse Club athletes. Petersen credits the club for not only fostering a love of lacrosse, but also preparing him for life after high school.
“The club most definitely positively impacted my life. Not only were the practices fun, the level of play was elevated and we succeeded in most of our tournaments,” he said. “If I didn’t have the club to help me gain a love of the game, I would not be in the same position that I am in now.”
Another Vail Valley Lacrosse Club alumnus, Jeremy Sforzo, a 2018 Battle Mountain High School graduate, attended Howard Community College before attending Seton Hill University, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where he plays Division II lacrosse. Sforzo’s high school coach and Vail Valley Lacrosse Club parent coach Pat Doherty consistently reiterated the quote, “Hard work beats talent when talent isn’t working hard.” Sforzo has found that this quote relates to all aspects of life, not just lacrosse. He praises the club for establishing lacrosse fundamentals in a fun and competitive way. Despite his college course load, Sforzo coaches whenever he can. He helped form the North Eastern Pennsylvania Rattlers and has coached Vail Lax clinics while also helping 10th Mountain Lax and BMHS.
Another Vail Valley Lacrosse Club standout, Ryan Cole, a Vail Mountain School student from 2017-2019 and Valor Christian 2021 graduate, recently signed to play lacrosse at Division I Merrimack College in Andover, Massachusetts. Cole credits his success to the fundamentals he received as a player in the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club and is especially grateful for the tutelage provided by Chris Powell, Eli Edelman and Brian Welch. He started on the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club U12 blue team but worked hard to make the red team the following year. His Vail Valley Lacrosse Club U13 and U15 teams played at regional and national levels and he played in the World Youth Games in Denver in 2014. After “aging out” of the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club, Cole made the Denver Elite Club lacrosse team.
“I am fortunate that I had Vail Lax to teach me the sound fundamentals of the game of lacrosse through great coaching and competition. We lost games and won games, but we were always learning and improving, which for me is more important than wins or losses,” Cole said. “Their coaching staff is incredible, and it definitely set me up well for the next level of my club and high school career.”
Riley Nestlerode, an Eagle Valley High School athlete from 2011 to 2014 before transferring to the prestigious Hun School of Princeton, is grateful to the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club for establishing his love of the game and instilling the importance of teamwork. During his time at the Hun School, Nestlerode’s team won two state titles and was ranked second in the nation. When he was a junior, he signed with The University of Vermont, a Division I school. One of Riley’s favorite quotes is, “Teams that play together, for one another with selflessness, will always be victorious.”
Zane Hensel, a 2017 Battle Mountain High School graduate, played competitive lacrosse in college. As a member of the North Dakota State University Club team, he won the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association national championship. Hensel has played lacrosse for 15 years, the first eight years with Vail Lax, and credits the club for helping him get to where he is today.
Another Vail Valley Lacrosse Club alumnae and 2016 Battle Mountain High School graduate, Siena Miller was a phenomenal goalie in the Vail Valley for years. She went on to play at The University of Mount Olive in Mount Olive, North Carolina. Miller appreciates all that the club has given her and gives back to the sport by coaching Vail Valley Lacrosse Club girls.
Thank you to all of you that have given your time, energy and effort over the years to the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club. You have continued the tradition of giving back to the sport and to the community.
Miner said it best, “Seeing kids coming back to coach for VVLC shows what lacrosse has done for those kids and what those kids have done in turn for our community.”
May the “Creator’s Game” continue to thrive and guide our athletes now and in the future.
For more information on former Vail Valley Lacrosse Club players or to register for the spring season, visit vaillax.com. The spring season starts March 30. Whether your child is a “never-ever” or an experienced lacrosse player, the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club welcomes children from all skill levels. Boys and girls in grades three through eight can register online by visiting the vaillax.com site and clicking on “registration.” If you need financial assistance, scholarships are available. Contact Brian Welch, the VVLC director of lacrosse, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Additionally, the club is looking for enthusiastic, knowledgeable coaches for both boys and girls teams. If interested in becoming a coach for a phenomenal club, please contact Brian Welch at email@example.com.