Brown Scrimmages Unite Unique Trio of Teams

Brown Scrimmages Unite Unique Trio of Teams

Sankofa Alliance, an all-black team and brainchild of Chazz Woodson and Kyle Harrison, debuts in Providence 

by Arielle Aronson,

John Christmas, the former Virginia and Boston Cannons star whose new Encore fashion brand supplied apparel for the all-black Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance, works against the defense of Brown's Alex Tulett during Friday's scrimmage. ©Bryce Vickmark

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Ten years ago, Chazz Woodson was a Brown student-athlete when he learned about the concept of Sankofa at a church service. The term roughly translates into the idea that "it's not taboo to go back and reclaim what you've forgotten," he said.

On Friday, a decade later, Woodson and fellow professional lacrosse player Kyle Harrison showcased that concept on the field via their brainchild, the Sankofa Lacrosse Alliance, which hopes to better connect all levels of lacrosse players while especially focusing on connections among black players.

The Alliance played in its first event, as the Sankofa Ambassadors team participated in a day of scrimmages against Brown and Team England at Meister-Kavan Field in Providence, R.I.

"It's an amazing day for lacrosse," Brown coach Lars Tiffany said. "The concept of having an international team, a team based on sovereignty, and to have an all African-American team based on race, and to have a collegiate team, to combine all three of those teams together is a really unique day for lacrosse."

The day was both unique and fulfilling for Woodson, who worked with Harrison for more than three years to launch the Sankofa Alliance. Woodson said one of the most important goals for Sankofa is to bridge the gap between generations of lacrosse players. In a day of scrimmages featuring a collegiate team, a senior national team and a team of former collegiate or current professional black players, that goal came into focus Friday.

"It's been a long time coming," Woodson said. "It's been a process and it's been awesome just to see the guys' reaction and to hear the spirit and enthusiasm in their voices. This is something that a lot of these guys -- and when I say these guys, it's myself included -- have dreamed about for years. There's a lot that goes in and it's starting to sink in while I'm saying itm so it's kind of crazy. It's a special moment."

While the Sankofa roster features some of the best black players in the game, the team barely had any time to practice together before Friday's scrimmages. Still, the squad looked strong in its scrimmage against Team England, fighting back from a 5-4 deficit at halftime to pull out a 13-8 victory.

The scrimmage against Brown proved to be a different story, as the Bears trounced Sankofa 13-3.

Junior attackman Nick Piroli set the tone early for Brown with two quick goals and sophomore attackman Kylor Bellistri chipped in with timely passing and a few goals of his own to help the Bears roll to an 8-1 lead by the end of the half. In the second half, Brown was stymied a bit more by Sankofa goalie Devon Sherwood, a former Duke player, but still controlled the pace of the game for an easy 13-3 win.

Brown's strong play did not carry over into its scrimmage against Team England, which used the international time format of four 20-minute quarters. Team England

Players congregate after the scrimmage. Team England also participated in the event. "It's an amazing day for lacrosse," Brown coach Lars Tiffany said. ©Bryce Vickmark

shot out to a 7-0 lead within the first 14 minutes, and Brown did not score its first goal until the 17:30 mark.

In the fall-ball assessment atmosphere, the Bears' struggles in the first half served to highlight both the areas to improve on for Brown as well as the players who show signs of being difference makers for the team. Sophomore midfielder Brendan Caputo, who was key both in scoring and in fighting for ground balls to generate momentum for Brown, clearly stood out while his team was struggling.

"When Team England jumped out to that 7-0 lead, we were looking for someone on our team to step up and stop the bleeding and get us standing upright and making some plays," Tiffany said. "Guys were trying, but they just weren't making them. Brendan was. He scored two or three goals there, and you can see that he's really starting to develop into a leader of the offense as a midfielder for us."

Caputo has a history of being clutch for the Bears. As a rookie in 2013, he scored three game-winning goals, second-most in the Ivy League.

In the second half, Brown fought to claw its way back from an 11-4 deficit in a very physical and intense atmosphere. The Bears drew multiple penalties from England while stick-checking more and causing more scrums for ground balls. But despite the late offensive from the Bears, England held on for a 15-12 victory, its first win during a weeklong tour of New England.

"It felt great after being punched in the mouth a couple times this tour," English coach Matt Bagley said. "It was great to finally get out there, be competitive and take a victory. We just started clicking."

While England, which is preparing for the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship in Denver, can travel back across the Atlantic with at least one win in its pocket, the Bears will also benefit from the contest, as it served as a reminder of what intensity can do for a team that will look to contend in a wide-open Ivy League in 2014.

"There's many great things we'll take away from today," Tiffany said. "We can certainly watch this film as a team and show the first half and not see that intensity and say, 'Look at the result. Look at the result when we can't win faceoffs, and look at what's happened in the second half.' There's a great lesson there, that it doesn't matter who we think we are, it all comes down to how much heart you pour into it."