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A Tradition Unlike Any Other

Two locals boost Iroquois Nationals to bronze at U-19 World Games.

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Andrew Cordia, right, helped the Iroquois Nationals to their first-ever bronze medal in the Under-19 World Lacrosse Championships tournament held in Coquitlam, British Columbia.

Andrew Cordia, a rising senior at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, didn’t realize he was eligible for the Iroquois Nationals, the only internationally sanctioned indigenous sports team in the United States. A casual conversation with an Iroquois assistant coach quickly morphed into a reality when it was unveiled that Cordia, an All-Interstate Athletic Conference attackman as a junior, had a great-grandmother that was a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma.

So Cordia, along with former Fort Hunt Youth Lacrosse League teammate Forest Cox, began a lacrosse odyssey that landed them with a bronze medal in the Under-19 World Lacrosse Championships tournament held July 3-12 in Coquitlam, British Columbia.

“I had no idea that I’d be eligible to try out,” Cordia said on Tuesday. “[The Iroquois] are credited with creating the sport, and that’s why they’re given the status as a nation. I got pretty lucky to be a part of that. It’s about promoting Native Americans in general.”

Coached by Tony Gray — the recently retired Oakton head coach — the Nationals earned their first medal since 1999, beating England, 19-10, at Percy Perry Stadium in the consolation game. The U.S. won its 36th straight game and sixth straight under-19 championship, since the event debuted in 1988, downing Canada, 19-12, in the gold medal match.

The Iroquois, who narrowly lost to the U.S. and Canada, are relatively new to international play, taking to the world field in 1990 after the International Lacrosse Federation (ILF) agreed to sanction the team. Derived from the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, the players represent a league Six Nations — the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora tribes — from Canada and the United States.

To play for the Iroquois, Native American descendents had to endure a three-day fall training camp at Hartwick College, a private liberal arts school in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. According to Cordia, the mini-camp was brutal, with three practices and scrimmages per day.

<b>CORDIA SOON</b> found out that the Nationals employed a very different style, one termed “boxla,” which is based on precision passing instead of the physical initiation associated with the American game.

“I’m so used to the Northern Virginia style that when I went to my first tryout, I was uncomfortable off the bat,” Cordia said. “No one dodged — everyone was passing the ball around. Everyone is completely unselfish. You’re fitting the ball in small crevices.”

The boxla style is prevalent in Canada, but for the Americans, who based their play on athleticism, and other teams, it takes some adjusting. Even though the Iroquois employed three 15-year-olds against mostly Division I-caliber players, the Nationals managed to stay competitive, losing 20-15, to the U.S.

“They outmatched us tremendously on the athletic standpoint,” Cordia said. “I don’t think they’ve seen lacrosse played that way… with the constant ball movement, it’s something that people who play field lacrosse aren’t used to.”

Cordia, who is deciding whether to play lacrosse at either Yale or Princeton, said it was a thrill just to be on the same field as the Americans, many of whom he’s merely read about.

“To see the guys that are in all of the magazines was one of the neatest experiences for me,” Cordia said. “For the Iroquois Nationals, we have some of the best lacrosse players that you’ll never hear about.”

Two members of the Nationals, Emmett Printup and Jason Johns, were named to the all-tournament team.

In the two pool play losses, the Nationals lost by a combined eight goals in pool play, even though approximately half the Nationals team are high school sophomores or younger. The Iroquois blasted Japan (27-9) and Scotland (28-2), and slipped by England (21-16) and the three-time runners-up in Australia (17-14) throughout the tournament.

<b>BEING ON THE TEAM</b> was humbling enough for Cordia and Cox, who is part-Prairie Band Potawatomi. Cox, a rising senior at West Potomac, will likely move on to play for the Nationals men's team, which is scheduled to compete in the 2010 championships in Manchester, England.

Before games, the Nations would undergo Native American spiritual rituals with the passing of the pipe and medicine water. For Cordia, who broke his foot last season and had an eight-month rehab process, the experience was a way to cherish lacrosse as an aspect of his heritage.

“A lot of the game for them is part of their religion,” Cordia said. “The Creator invented the game for them, and for us, really. It was very neat to be part of that culture. Playing for the team that invented the sport, I don’t think there’s any higher honor.”