Four Los Altos boys were on a team that last month became the first to represent the United States in a sanctioned Canadian Lacrosse Association box lacrosse tournament. They represented their country well, returning from Calgary with a silver medal.
The Cali-Lax All-Stars - featuring local players Sean Elmurib, AJ Guralas, Conor McCarthy and Jake Munroe - went 4-1 in the largest indoor lacrosse tournament in North America. Their lone loss came by a goal in overtime in the championship game of the Pee Wee Division (ages 11-12).
Not bad for a team playing competitive box lacrosse, an indoor version of the sport that originated in Canada, for the first time.
"They've been playing outdoor, but indoor is different," said Cali-Lax assistant coach Andreas Guralas, AJ's father. "I didn't think we'd win a game against them."
When the hockey season ends in Canada, many of the same ice rinks are used for box lacrosse, after the ice is covered or removed. Because the playing surface is smaller, box lacrosse has just six players per side.
"There's typically more scoring and it's faster paced, but the goal is smaller," coach Guralas said. "You switch lines a lot faster and there's a 30-second shot clock."
The Cali-Lax All-Stars proved to be quick studies. The team formed near the end of May in San Jose and had only 28 hours of practice before heading to The Great White North the last week of June. Yet the All-Stars finished ahead of 18 teams in their division.
"It was surprising," coach Guralas said. "They really came together as a team pretty quickly."
He credited head coach Shaydon Santos for getting the players up to speed. Santos, a former captain of the San Jose Stealth professional lacrosse team, spent 11 years as a pro box lacrosse player in Canada.
"Shaydon is an amazing coach," Guralas said. "He's a pro, but he can work with kids – they respond to him. He loves the game. For me, it was great (to be his assistant) because I got to learn all kinds of stuff about the game."
Santos runs the Box Lacrosse Academy in San Jose and was responsible for getting the Cali-Lax All-Stars into the popular Canadian tournament, which turns away several teams each year.
"Lacrosse is relatively new to the Bay Area and it's important to expose these young boys to the greater lacrosse world that's out there. It plays a huge role in the development of the skill level here in the Bay Area but most importantly gets these boys to love the game a little more," the 33-year-old Santos said. "When I was 12 years old back in Canada, I was fortunate enough to start traveling internationally and representing my country. These early lacrosse experiences definitely shaped my career, and I want to offer these boys the same opportunities in developing their game."
The trip to Canada also provided the boys with an opportunity to meet Daniel Fennell, acting U.S. Consul-General in Calgary. He spoke to the team prior to the first game, offering the players encouragement.
"The boys' eyes got really big," coach Guralas said. "They thought it was really cool."
Perhaps that motivated the Cali-Lax All-Stars, whose performance in the tournament caught the Canadians' attention – from the fans to the players to the organizers.
"The tournament director said, â€˜You guys really surprised us. It's a different game (than outdoor) and we didn't think you'd do so well,'" coach Guralas said.
The four local boys, who have played the outdoor game together for almost three years as part of the Crusaders Lacrosse Club, all contributed to the Cali-Lax cause. Elmurib, AJ Guralas, McCarthy and Munroe were starting field players.
"They were key players," coach Guralas said. "All of them scored, had assists and won face-offs."
They played in front of crowds of more than 500 people in the medal rounds, according to the assistant coach.
"The noise was amazing," he said. "(The tournament) is a big deal in Canada."
And it was apparently a big deal for the Cali-Lax All-Stars, who are anxious to return to Calgary for next year's event.
"They invited us back, and Shaydon is up for it and so are the players," coach Guralas said. "I think this was just the start."