The continued growth of Major League Lacrosse in the Charlotte area received another boost on Saturday night, as 6,184 fans filled the stands at American Legion Memorial Stadium to see the second-year market host its first-ever Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game. Team Supernova defeated Team Eclipse 24-15, with Charlotteans getting the chance to cheer on some of their hometown stars, while sampling the best the MLL has to offer.
The MLL's fan-friendly nature made itself evident throughout the weekend, starting with the selection of the two All-Star teams. The two winners of the league's Ultimate Fan Fantasy contest, Cameron MacKenzie (Eclipse) and Frank Ranfone (Supernova), made their picks for their respective teams at a selection ceremony Friday night. This is an uncommon honor among professional sports, and helps to develop the accessible nature for which Major League Lacrosse has become known.
There was plenty of action before the game, as well. A tournament featuring 44 youth lacrosse teams from throughout the United States took place earlier in the day, with the sport's stars serving as honorary coaches. Lacrosse is gaining in popularity with younger athletes, and is a feature at halftime of Hounds games. This is a method of outreach to youngsters that will surely help to grow the game.
A beautiful Charlotte evening was almost ruined by a heavy storm that blew through about a half-hour before the first face-off. Once the All-Stars took the field, though, the action got started in a hurry. Team Supernova led 7-3 after the first period, on the strength of their midfield talent, including Hamilton's Kevin Crowley, Boston's Mike Stone and Peet Poillon of the hometown Hounds. Supernova took a 13-7 lead into the half, where the still rain-soaked crowd really got the chance to see some fireworks.
The halftime festivities gave fans the opportunity to witness the players' skill, creativity and personality. Hounds attacker -- and native of nearby Waxhaw -- Mike Sawyer took the field first in the fastest shot competition. His two shots, one at 113 miles per hour and another at 114 miles per hour, allowed Sawyer to hold the wire-to-wire lead and take home the fastest shot title. Both shots set records for the fastest shot in the history of the competition, breaking the previous record of 111 miles per hour. The longest shot competition saw a surprise victor, as Denver goalie Jesse Schwartzman nailed two twenty-point shots (the length of the field) to defeat Charlotte's Ryan Flanagan and take home the crown. The final competition of the night, the freestyle competition, was awarded by the fans to Boston's Kevin Buchanan. This competition featured shots taken from the crowd, tennis and golf-style shots, and, for a finale, drums on the field.
When the second half got underway, Team Eclipse made their move. Eclipse scored six unanswered goals -- one from goalie Brett Queener -- to tie the game at 13 and get the crowd ready for an exciting finish. This was not to be, however, as Poillon and Denver's Chris Bocklet both found the net to give Supernova a 15-13 lead after three periods. After an Eclipse goal to bring the score to 15-14, Supernova went on their own tear. Supernova notched nine straight goals, two coming back-to-back off the stick of Crowley, who was named the game's MVP. Eclipse was able to notch just one final tally from Jeremy Sieverts, closing out the night.
A look at the fans wearing MLL jerseys throughout the stands and lining up for post-game autographs in the rain reveals the true success of this game and of the sport in Charlotte. The league also sponsored a post-game party at the Epicentre in uptown Charlotte for all fans wishing to attend. The site of the 2014 MLL All-Star Game will be announced in due time, but that city will have a tough act to follow.