Pro Lacrosse, Elevated: Three Leagues, One Weekend in Boston


This article appears in the July/August edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

It just felt different. Among the fans, the players, even those watching on TV — the consensus from the professional lacrosse games June 1-2 was that the sport had never seen anything like it.

Three professional leagues — Major League Lacrosse, the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League and the newly founded Premier Lacrosse League — all converged on the Boston area for their opening weekends.

For MLL’s Boston Cannons, the matchup with the New York Lizards on June 1 not only was the first of the year, but the first at the renovated Veterans Memorial Stadium in Quincy. The WPLL and PLL called Gillette Stadium in Foxborough home for the weekend. The two touring leagues produced five games in two days.

US Lacrosse Magazine was there to take it in.

June 1, 3:30 p.m.
Quincy, Mass.

The parking lots adjacent to Veterans Memorial Stadium rang out with the sounds of U2 cover band Joshua Tree. Children rocking Max Seibald and Will Manny jerseys played cornhole with lacrosse sticks rather than their hands.

The Boston Cannons fan festival featured a rock-climbing wall, a beer garden and a handful of concession stands. Following along a fence, Paul Shaughnessy, of Kingston, stood with his son, Cayden, pointing out different Cannons warming up and providing tips.

“Who’s your favorite MLL player? [Steve] Waldeck?” Paul asked his son.

“Yeah probably,” Cayden answered. “I just like watching and getting ideas of how to play by watching the way they play.”

Veterans Memorial Stadium was built in 1931, but renovated to accommodate the MLL team, with a $1.5 million investment by the Cannons.

A sellout crowd of more than 5,000 filtered into red seats in the stands for the official ribbon cutting ceremony, which featured Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, Quincy mayor Thomas Koch and Cannons owner Rob Hale. Soon after opening faceoff, residents of Quincy, some of whom had never watched a lacrosse game, expressed their interest from the Champion’s Club — a structure inspired by fan galleries at golf tournaments.

There, Cannons president Ian Frenette reflected on the work that went into the team moving to Quincy from its previous venue at Harvard.

“We had a vision and we checked every box of that vision,” he said. “I can tell you that, at the beginning of this week, not one of those red seats was in. Yesterday morning, not one of those red seats were in.”

With the migration of players to the Premier Lacrosse League, the Cannons lost stars like Manny, Trevor Baptiste and Davey Emala. Still, Frenette liked what he saw on the field that night.

“I don’t like the argument that all the top players went to the PLL. It’s just not true,” he said. “Our guys want to play for a city. Boston is the city of champions, no lie. This is what we do here.”

Boston defeated New York 13-12 behind six goals from Mark Cockerton. Tony Matterazzo, Ricky Tower, Henry Holmes and Rob Crupi from Scituate, Mass., cheered from the front row.

“This is Major League Lacrosse, baby,” Holmes exclaimed. “You can’t beat it.”


June 2, 11 a.m.
Foxborough, Mass.

WPLL founder and CEO Michelle DeJuliis stood in awe of the venue in which four teams would take the field for opening day of the league’s second season.

Fight stars like Taylor Cummings and Kylie Ohlmiller wore jerseys that matched the color of the sky on the beautiful Sunday morning. They played the Pride, which featured the likes of Alex Aust and Ally Carey, decked out in silver jerseys with a purple trim.

 “It’s exhilarating. These women work so hard to have this opportunity, and to be out there at an elite venue — when you look around, it’s just absolutely gorgeous,” she said of Gillette Stadium. “The field and the conditions, you just feel like a pro player.”

The WPLL made a series of changes in the offseason, dropping cities from team names, updating logos and partnering with the PLL. All of these steps, according to DeJuliis, were aimed at elevating the professional women’s game to a level it had never experienced.

After the Fight came away with a hard-fought 6-4 win, players from both teams headed to the edge of the stands, where they met hundreds of fans hoping to score an autograph. Girls draped jerseys over the first-row railing and players signed almost every single one.

“The little kids, their eyes just turned giant,” DeJuliis said. “They were so excited they were meeting and getting Kylie Ohlmiller’s signature, or Marie McCool. Any of our players that walked over, they were thrilled.”

Fans who couldn’t make it to Foxborough watched on ESPN3, another big step for the WPLL.

“It’s exciting, you know?” DeJuliis said. “The girls feel special, too. Getting out to play the game they love at such an elite level is just icing on the cake.”


June 2, 11 a.m.
Foxborough, Mass.

Outside of Gillette Stadium, as PLL players arrived for the Atlas vs. Redwoods game, social media host RJ Kaminski toured the Premier Zone. Followed by about 20 kids, he grabbed a shirt from the merchandise tent and started recording.

“Guys, the merch is fire, right?” he asked. “Yeah!” they screamed.

Minutes later, a line of autograph seekers formed in front of Myles Jones, Davey Emala and Jules Heningburg. Ben Gradwell, wearing PLL founder Paul Rabil’s No. 99 jersey from MLL’s Boston Cannons, traveled three hours to see his favorite player.

“He thinks he’s the greatest,” said Katie Gradwell, Ben’s mother. “He watches his YouTube channel and all his tricks, and he practices at home.”

By 1:30 p.m., fans filtered into the lower bowl of Gillette Stadium to await the two teams. Players ventured out of the north end zone tunnel in a scene reminiscent of Premier League soccer. When Rabil and the Atlas reached the field, the fans broke into a standing ovation.

“We feel really connected to this fanbase,” Rabil said. “They’re taking a chance with us on what we believe the pro game can be. When you’re in person with them, it felt like there was a real virality to it.”

 “Walking out of the tunnel,” Redwoods midfielder Kyle Harrison said, “was the moment it felt real.”

NBC Sports televised the game. The SkyCam flew above the players. After goals, an on-field cameraman sprinted onto the field to get a close-up shot of Joey Sankey or Eric Law. On the screen, fans watched some of the most intimate shots a broadcast could provide.

“We want the people to feel like they are a part of the game,” PLL CEO Mike Rabil said. “It’s the feeling of being on the field with the players, having that access to them. It gives you the feeling of being an athlete again.”

In Section 108, Michael Hughes and his son, wearing a Rabil Atlas jersey, sat with anticipation. “What do you think is going to happen when Rabil scores?” he asked his son, Zach. “Do you think this place will nuts?”

“Yeah I hope so,” Zach said.

Rabil did score, but Redwoods pulled away for the 11-9 win. While several players worked their way toward the stands to sign autographs, three lingered behind. Rabil, Harrison and Tom Schreiber stood near midfield and reflected on the weekend — one they hope has changed the course of lacrosse for the better.

“I remember when we had this idea,” Rabil said, “and now it’s real.” 

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