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The Dartmouth
May 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Men’s lacrosse represented at 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship

Players on the Dartmouth varsity men’s lacrosse team and Korea’s national lacrosse team discussed lacrosse’s growing influence across the world.

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Courtesy of Ben DiGiovanni ’24.

The 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship took place from June 21 to July 1 at San Diego State University in San Diego, California, with 30 teams collectively competing in more than 100 games. The Championship takes place every four years around the world, with the US hosting four since the tradition began in 1974. Ben DiGiovanni ’24, a player on the varsity men’s lacrosse team, represented the Republic of Korea at this year’s championship. The US won the trophy this year, and South Korea placed 26th. 

DiGiovanni said he first got involved with the Korean Men’s Lacrosse national team during his exchange program at Yonsei University in Seoul this past fall. He explained that his teammate on the varsity men’s lacrosse team, Lenox Huh ’24, reached out to the Korea Lacrosse Association’s Instagram account via direct message, and the two were then invited to a team practice. They both trained with the team throughout the fall. After an online tryout, DiGiovanni said he found out in April he had made the Korean Men’s Lacrosse national team and would compete with them at the 2023 World Championship.

For a team to qualify for the Championship, at least 19 of the 23 players on each team must have passports for the country, and the remaining four can go to non-passport holders with heritage dating as far back to one’s grandparents. DiGiovanni was able to represent Korea as one of four non-passport holders, as his mother was born in Seoul. 

Clint Yoo, captain of the 2023 Korean Men’s Lacrosse national team, said he originally got involved with the team in 2013 as a high schooler. His experience with the sport started in 2007, when he first arrived in the US to enroll in American schools. Yoo said he will retire this year after 11 years with the team.

“If you could look at the rosters for all 30 countries that were participating in this year’s championship, many of them were NCAA players — American players that have been playing lacrosse their entire lives in the US — that got citizenship in their country to compete,” Yoo said. “Korea, though, is a very special circumstance where it’s essentially impossible to obtain citizenship or dual citizenship. That’s due to strict regulations but also mandatory military service for men.”

The limited pool of native lacrosse talent may be attributed to lacrosse being a newer sport in Korea. The Korea Lacrosse Association was founded just in 1997. 

“Today, there’s a few colleges with club teams for both men and women, and about eight or nine local high schools that have boys lacrosse teams,” Yoo said. “Although that’s certainly growth since I joined [the national team] in 2013, it’s still a very small presence. It’s even a pain for the KLA to find a field for us to practice on, with close to no financial support for the men’s national lacrosse team.”

The lack of lacrosse infrastructure for players to pick up the sport, along with the difficulty of obtaining citizenship, pose obstacles for the sport of lacrosse to grow in Korea. Without financial support, players face another barrier in finding time and resources outside of their jobs to play. 

Yoo acknowledged that Korea has a tough journey ahead to cement lacrosse as a sport, but he still believes that the sport will expand nationally. He said he looks to hopeful signals like the huge online following during the 2022 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship Asia Pacific Qualifier, where Korea won their region.

“The sport grows only when the level of playing continues to grow,” Yoo said. “People need to see how the sport can be played at a professional level; how fast the ball can move or how physical the game can get … So players like [DiGiovanni] can really help grow the sport in Korea.”

TJ Bryan ’23, a player on the men’s varsity lacrosse team, said he also believes in the sport’s potential to continue growing as an international sport outside of the US, Canada, England and Australia.

“It’s just getting easier to start playing [lacrosse],” Bryan pointed out. “Gear that used to be inaccessible is more affordable, and lacrosse rules are continuously updated to keep it safe and fun… The barriers of entry for the sport are lower now, and it’s a progressive sport that’s preaching inclusivity.”

DiGiovanni, who started playing lacrosse at age six, said that his experience from childhood to the varsity level provided expertise and strengthened morale for his Korean teammates. 

“There’s a large gap in someone that grew up playing lacrosse versus a Korean that first picked up a stick in college, in terms of lacrosse IQ and understanding the game,” DiGiovanni noted.

DiGiovanni said his positive experience with the sport and the Korea national team deepened his love for lacrosse and what it means for him. 

“Through lacrosse, I was able to get into such a prestigious school, which was an unbelievable opportunity for me. At Dartmouth, playing lacrosse is a commitment to the institution, your teammates, coaches and the community that supports you. But it’s a commitment that lasts four years,” DiGiovanni said. “Whereas playing for Korea, it’s about your heritage. That is with you forever.” 

DiGiovanni credited his success on the field to support from family and teammates like Huh and Bryan.

“It’s really cool that [DiGiovanni] represented Dartmouth as one of our best players,” Bryan said. “[His teammates] were all really excited to see our friend on TV, as such a hard worker with great character playing on the biggest lacrosse stage, showing his own heritage and the growth of lacrosse as an international sport.”

DiGiovanni said his experience shows how playing lacrosse at the international level has the potential to grow the sport in individual countries, but also provides grounds to grow one’s relationship with one’s own country.

“Being able to represent your country is the greatest honor in sports,” DiGiovanni said. “It’s an unbelievable privilege, and I’ve never seen my mom so proud. I never got to meet my grandparents, who passed away before I was born, or when I was really young, so it’s special to be playing for them, knowing they’d be happy looking down and seeing how I'm reconnecting with my Korean heritage, which I’ve struggled to do in the past.”