For proof of the expanding reach of lacrosse around the globe, look no further than the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships, which begin Thursday night in the Denver suburbs.
A record 38 teams, representing nations from six continents, will take part in the quadrennial event over the next 10 days at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.
That's an impressive number for an event that began with only four countries in 1967 and had just six as recently as 1994.
The 38 teams are grouped into nine divisions; the elite Blue Division features the top six teams in the world rankings: the United States, Canada, Australia, Iroquois, England and Japan. Four of them will advance from pool play to the quarterfinals, with the top two getting a bye to the semifinals. The best team in each of the other eight divisions after pool play will have the opportunity to advance to the quarterfinals.
As always, the Baltimore area's ties to the world championships run deep. Representing the United States are attackmen Brendan Mundorf (UMBC, Mount St. Joseph) and Marcus Holman (Gilman); midfielders Matt Abbott (Chesapeake Bayhawks), Dan Burns (Maryland, Severna Park) Kevin Buchanan (Calvert Hall), Paul Rabil (Johns Hopkins) and Kyle Harrison (Johns Hopkins, Friends); defensemen Michael Evans (Johns Hopkins, South River), Jesse Bernhardt (Maryland), Mitch Belisle (Severna Park), Kyle Hartzell (Salisbury, Archbishop Curley), Tucker Durkin (Johns Hopkins) and Lee Zink (Maryland); and goalkeeper Jesse Schwartzman (Johns Hopkins, Pikesville).
No time is wasted getting to the drama -- the first game is between the United States and Canada, which have combined to win every world championship. In 2010, Team USA defeated Canada, 12-10, in Manchester, England, behind an MVP performance from Rabil. Tonight's game will air live on ESPN2 at 9 p.m.
Outside North America, two teams to keep an eye on are the Iroquois and Australia. In 11 all-time world championships, Australia has always finished in either second or third place. Anchored by the Thompsons -- brothers Lyle, Miles, Jeremy and Jerome Jr., as well as cousin Ty -- the Iroquois are back in the event after being forced to forfeit in 2010 because the British government denied their passports.
The most notable absence this time will be that of forward John Grant Jr., a former Chesapeake Bayhawk who at age 39 remains one of the top scorers in both indoor and outdoor lacrosse. On Friday, the Canadian Lacrosse Association announced that Grant won't play because he was not allowed a medical exemption for hormone therapy involving testosterone. His condition results from concussions suffered during his playing career and a staph infection that nearly killed him six years ago. Grant will join coach Randy Mearns' staff on the sideline.
The semifinals and championship game will be televised on ESPNU on July 17 and July 19, respectively.
For the full schedule, go here. The divisions are as follows:
Republic of Korea