PHOTO CREDIT - Flathead Lacrosse Club attacker Jack Blair fends off Northwest SharpShooter midfielder Lincoln Jones during the third quarter of the SharpShooter's 8-5 victory at Glacier on Thursday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)
The Northwest SharpShooters lacrosse club wasn’t intimidated by its older neighbors, dominating the first quarter to take a commanding lead in an 8-5 victory over cross Valley rivals Flathead Lacrosse on Thursday at Glacier High School.
Flathead, the elder team in the matchup featuring a roster of seniors and juniors, scored first, barely two minutes into the contest when attacker Lazlo Urbach recovered a turnover in front of the SharpShooters net and buried a point-blank shot behind the goalie.
If that was a statement, it didn’t register.
The SharpShooters, a first-year program based in Kalispell and made up mostly of sophomores and freshmen from last year’s Flathead 15U state championship squad, answered quickly.
Freshman midfielder Lincoln Jones got Northwest on the board with a shot from 15 feet out. A little more than two minutes later Jones was in an opportune place as a deflected shot bounced to him on the weak side of the offensive zone and he buried another point-blank goal to give the Sharpshooters their first lead and a growing sense of confidence.
Shortly after Darin Rashleigh dumped in a third goal for the SharpShooters and Logan Hill another after that. With a minute left in the quarter, Collin Kazmier added a fifth-straight goal for Northwest to give his squad a commanding lead.
Riding their speed in the midfield, the SharpShooters looked to have another goal early in the second quarter but it was waived off after a penalty was called on the goalscorer for an illegal stick.
The infraction halted momentum for the Kalispell team as it played with a man down.Flathead took advantage, scoring a goal 26 seconds later on a pass from Urbach behind the net to a wide open Marcus Jackson, whose quick shot cut the score to 5-2.
Jackson added another right before half, taking a pass from Mason Nicholson as he slashed into the slot and quickly flipping it on net to put Flathead down two goals at the break.
Flathead kept its momentum rolling after half, with Jackson completing his hat trick less than a minute into the third quarter firing a rope through traffic to cut the Sharpshooters lead to 5-4.
Flathead would continue the push, until the end of the frame, firing three chances on goal in the final minute of the third only for each to go awry.
As the overcast and blustery weather turned to drizzling rain in the fourth quarter, the SharpShooters began to find their range again.
With nine seconds remaining in a man advantage, Caleb Jones, the lone senior for Northwest, found the net, scoring the SharpShooters’ first goal in more than 26 minutes to push the lead back to 6-4. After a few more chances went wide, including a point-blank shot from Northwest that hit both the post and the crossbar, Drew Engellant scored again for the SharpShooters, burying a goal from outside that bounced in the net off a near stop from the Flathead goalkeeper. Northwest’s Garrett Frost added another with 1:42 to play to help the SharpShooters run away with the game.
“It’s been a long time getting to this point,” senior Caleb Jones said. “These guys beat us (in the) preseason in a scrimmage and we wanted them back. We got it done tonight.
“Especially the first time, it’s a big deal for a first-year program against a team that’s been around for a little while. They’ve had some success in the state tournament, it’s pretty cool to have a group of young guys and be able to beat a team like this.”
Flathead’s Nicholson cut into the lead just 19 seconds later to keep the game within a chance, but the Whitefish team couldn’t get anymore tries on net.
“(We played) very poorly, didn’t come ready to play, as shows in the first quarter,” Flathead coach Matthew Rizzolo said.
“It was a one-goal game at one point, we just weren’t able to execute.”
With the win, the Sharpshooters (7-2) have won their last five games and enter the meat of the schedule with only one loss to an in-state team, a 9-8 game to undefeated West Billings in the season opener.
“I can’t even speak right now,” SharpShooters coach Thomas Roehl said.
“It feels like we won state, but I know we haven’t. There’s still a long way to go. I’m just proud of my team right now.
“There’s still plenty of games to be played. We still have (first-place) Hellgate, we still have a lot of good teams. But, this was a huge accomplishment for us.”
Flathead (6-4) is still in the top half of the Western conference with the loss, with a big matchup against East leaders West Billings (7-0) on Saturday in Missoula.
Northwest will be in Butte this weekend for a pair of contests before hosting Missoula Hellgate (7-0) and the Helena Huskies (7-2) next week.
The state tournament will be held on May 20-22 at the University of Montana fields in Missoula.
Flathead 1 2 1 1 — 5
Northwest 5 0 0 3 — 8
First Quarter — 1, Flathead, Lazlo Urbach, 10:27. 1, Northwest, Lincoln Jones, 8:23. 2, Northwest, L. Jones, 6:18. 3, Northwest, Darin Rashleigh, 5:00. 4, Northwest, Logan Hill, 3:46. 5, Northwest, Collin Kazmier, 1:01.
Second Quarter — 2, Flathead, Marcus Jackson (Urbach), 9:00. 3, Flathead, Jackson (Mason Nicholson), 21.2.
Third Quarter — 4, Flathead, Jackson (Nicholson), 11:27.
All it took to ignite the Flathead Valley’s newest rivalry was a little smack talk between classmates.
Lacrosse has grown rapidly in the region. Flathead Lacrosse Club started playing varsity games only five years ago, pulling players from Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell looking for a fun, fast alternative to track and baseball in the spring. The club found traction quickly, building a small high school team into an entire organization: hosting multiple youth teams and a state champion 15-and-under squad by last season.
“It started as a fairly casual sport,” Flathead coach Matthew Rizzolo said. “It’s become something pretty competitive and the kids are dedicated to it.
“One of my lacrosse players has a tattoo of lacrosse sticks and a skull on his calf. That’s super exciting to see some kids be focused and make it a priority.”
With the sport growing so fast, and the idea of providing more kids the opportunity to play varsity games, the Northwest SharpShooters began playing lacrosse this season in Kalispell. Many of the players from that 15U champion left to join the team closer to home and were able to recruit a few others.
The new team has gotten off to a hot start, dropping its first game by a point to undefeated West Billings, and winning the last four games to post a 6-2 record this season.
That mark is slightly better than Flathead, which is 6-3, winning five straight before a loss to undefeated Missoula Hellgate on Sunday.
The teams are nearly identical statistically, scoring the same number of goals this season and separated by just two goals in point differential.
They enter today’s cross-Valley showdown on nearly equal footing.
But, that’s not what’s feeding the rivalry.
This is about good, old-fashioned smack talk.
“Most of these kids go to school with each other,” SharpShooters coach Thomas Roehl said. “A couple (Flathead) kids started calling our kids a U15 team.
“(Now our kids are) fired up to play. They want a piece of Flathead.”
A slight like that, even in passing, is a time-worn way to spark a rivalry. A new team, already working for acceptance, never likes to hear the established veteran brushing them aside.
That goes over even worse between kids who know each other.
When the game starts off today at 6 p.m. at Glacier High School, those emotions will certainly be worked out.
While the rivalry smolders, it’s also building two strong, distinct programs.
That is turning out to be a boon for local athletes.
“It’s great to have a little bit more local competition,” Rizzolo said.
“It’s fun to watch the sport grow.”
Two kids from Flathead are already committed to play club lacrosse in college, with two more already on that level. Whitefish’s David Rizzolo and Kalispell’s Dominick Faith just won the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference title at Montana State and will play next week at the Men’s Lacrosse Club Association national championships. Rizzolo, only a sophomore for the Bobcats, was named first team all conference as a midfielder.
Even more could be headed that way in the future, with both Flathead and the SharpShooters boasting a field of talent and more young athletes finding the sport every year.
“We’re going to have so many players it’s unbelievable,” Roehl said. “We’re going to have to stop recruiting players and start recruiting coaches more.”
The sport is still fairly new to the area, but with passion and rivalries like the one burgeoning in the Flathead Valley, it can only grow stronger.