The Philippines men’s national program hopes to build off its 2018 Men’s Championship performance in Israel, where it finished an impressive 10th out of 46 teams in its debut in the competition.
It was an impressive achievement for a team with a small player pool and a relatively young National Governing Body. While the Philippines finished in 10th place in 2018, the country was not yet a full member of World Lacrosse at that time and such had to earn its spot for the next edition through qualifying.
Only 11 of the 23 players on the team that will play in San Diego this summer participated in the Asia Pacific Lacrosse Union qualifier last October. The group reached its goal in South Korea, finishing in the top four spots to qualify for the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship.
“We’re not a big program, so we kind of know who we have and what their skillsets are, on and off the field,” said Ron Garcia, president of the Philippines Lacrosse Association. “It’s not just how good they are on the field, we want to take some quality men and really represent the Philippines as well as we can.”
“No one believed that we were going to be competitive, let alone finish 10th in the world, leading up to that championship,” said 2018 team captain Justin Rodis, who will once again represent the Philippines in 2023. “It was just an unbelievable ride.”
Garcia expects the team to put together a camp and participate in scrimmages before the tournament kicks off. Right now, more of the focus on his end resides with logistics, making sure everything is ready to go behind the scenes.
The team has already had a tryout in Florida and in the Philippines, as it looks to fill out the group around the returning core of players from the qualifier.
Players on the team attend school in the United States and Canada; a few even work in Australia. So, bringing everyone to the same location to prepare is a challenge.
Still, the global event in San Diego provides an opportunity for the team to gain more popularity. In addition to the men’s national team, Garcia said the Philippines will also have a men’s open team, a women’s open team and a youth team to participate in the World Lacrosse Festival that coincides with the championship.
“We’re trying to make a huge splash in San Diego,” Garcia said.
The location brings optimism that this will be a valuable event for the PLA. San Diego has one of the highest Filipino populations in the country, so there should be plenty of ways to expand awareness of their organization.
Continuing that growth in the United States, Rodis said, is paramount to supplying infrastructure to expand the sport in the Philippines.
“Our mission as an organization is to grow the game back home in the Philippines,” Rodis said. “But it takes a village, and these are part of the grassroots steps that we take. We want to engage with the Filipino community around the country because ultimately if we don’t get support in the U.S., it becomes more difficult to generate awareness and equipment donations back home.”
Like other countries that are still working to grow lacrosse from a grassroots level, the pandemic significantly impeded the PLA from building on their mission.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were going strong, so we’re now trying to rebuild,” Garcia said. “As of right now, what we have going on is based in Manila. We’ve gotten a grant from World Lacrosse to help with a sixes initiative. We really feel like that’s an easier entry point for lacrosse.”
Sixes provides a quicker style of game on a smaller field, and players play offense and defense, giving them more experience in a single game.
With the grant from World Lacrosse and the overall increase in organized events, Garcia said the PLA wants to continue to have more avenues for teams to play the sport.
“We want to compete more outside of the Philippines,” he said. “Not only is there a men’s championship this year, but there are many events around the world, especially for APLU teams. We’re excited to compete in those events as well.”
While Garcia expressed excitement about the potential for sixes to help accelerate the sport’s growth in the Philippines, he’s also confident that the men’s national team is well-equipped for international play because of a slower pace of the game compared to sixes.
“Possession is key for us,” he said. “We’ve got a strong defense. We’ve got a good face-off. I think our game kind of lends itself to the field rules where we can control the game.”
In the last men’s championship, the Philippines finished 10th in the country’s first time taking part in the event. Now, the team finds itself in a competitive pool with Israel, Sweden, Puerto Rico and Czech Republic.
The Philippines opens the tournament against Israel on June 23.
Regardless of the outcome, Garcia, Rodis and the PLA will continue working to bring lacrosse to the Philippines and inspire the younger generation with a sport that’s quite new in the country. Everyone involved sees San Diego as a jumping off point.
“Being on the world stage, playing and representing our country allows those men and women and the youth that are living the growth of the game something to aspire to and work towards,” Rodis said. “That’s something we take pride in.”