Team Toyota cruises past N. Hempstead for club title

In the fable of the tortoise and the hare, the slow and steady turtle eventually catches the speedy rabbit at the finish. Unfortunately for the players of the North Hempstead Lacrosse Club, there was no moral to yesterday's U.S. Men's Club Lacrosse Association championship game, and they were outrun by a quicker and more talented Team Toyota, 21-12.

Baltimore-based Team Toyota claimed the first title in the squad's five-year history despite losing its top offensive threat, Casey Powell, in the game's opening minutes.


Powell, a former All-American at Syracuse, put the first chink in the NHLC defense just 19 seconds into the game with a wraparound goal, but then rolled his ankle diving for a ground ball on the UMBC Stadium turf, forcing him to the sideline for the rest of the afternoon.

"It was a little nerve-wracking to see Casey go down early like that," said Toyota coach Haswell Franklin, "but we knew that if we could get up on them early, we'd have the advantage and go from there."


And it all went according to plan for Toyota. From the opening whistle, Toyota looked like it was revving a new V-8 engine, while Long Island-based NHLC's vintage four-cylinder sputtered and clutched, helplessly struggling to keep up. Counterattacks abounded for Toyota, and its middies easily weaved in and out of a relatively stagnant NHLC midfield.

"We're definitely an Astroturf type of team," said Tom Marichek, who scored four goals for Toyota. "The faster pace is good for us. We had a step on them every time we were coming out and our midfield was the key. We definitely have some of the best athletes in the league out here."

Marichek played a role in many of the fast-break opportunities, and less than two minutes into the third quarter, he gave a splendid feed to Gary Gait, who was running full-steam down the center. Gait caught the ball in stride and nearly tore a hole in the net as he ripped a shot past goalie Alex Rosier.

"It's been such a battle for us every year," said Gait, referring to Toyota's three previously unsuccessful trips to the title game. "It really takes a team effort and everybody contributed. We weren't really focusing on just one player to get the job done for us and it showed today."

With a hot start (a 9-5 lead at the intermission) and a hotter field (the turf baked in the near-100 degree heat), Franklin knew that a second-half letdown was a possibility. Fortunately, the team heeded his anecdotal, yet simple halftime message.

"I told the guys at halftime that my son had told me I'm the coach of the best lacrosse team and that they should believe in that," Franklin said. "Then they came out and they did it."