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Denver's Iwamoto to Become First Japanese Player to Start in MLL

July 18, 2018
While two Denver Outlaws' goaltenders, Jack Kelly (U.S.) and Dillon Ward (Canada), are representing their countries at the 2018 FIL Men’s Lacrosse World Championship in Israel, Kaisuke Iwamoto (No. 16) is likely to get his first Major League Lacrosse (MLL) start for head coach B.J. O'Hara against the first-place Dallas Rattlers this Sunday, July 22. Iwamoto, who played MCLA lacrosse at the University of California, Irvine, will become the first Japanese citizen to play in an MLL game. 

Iwamoto was born in Tokyo and attended Keio High School, which has a men's lacrosse team. He began playing lacrosse as a freshman. Iwamoto emigrated to Portland, Ore., in 2015, primarily to study English. He then decided to study business in 2016 and enrolled at UC Irvine. He played only a few games there in 2017 but caught the Outlaws' coaching staff's attention at an open tryout in 2017, and then again this year. He suited up in one other game this season, May 4, for the Outlaws first win of the season against New York. Denver (7-4) is currently in third place in the standings. 

"Kai has been with us all year. He tried out last year (2017) in the open tryout. We are pretty confident in our assessment of him that he can help us," O'Hara said. "We have been hosting these open tryouts for a while and we've been able to get some pretty good players out of it. That's something that we feel really good about."

Tony Seaman, general manager and associate head coach for the Outlaws, liked what he saw of Iwamoto during the past few seasons.

"Kai was very impressive a year ago at the tryouts. I had seen him play in Hawaii for one of the club teams and we kept our eye on him. This year at the tryouts he was really good again. I think he's going to start for us on Sunday," Seaman said.

The Outlaws also will have Matt Hanley available. Hanley is a recent St. John's University graduate who had an outstanding senior season, according to Seaman. Hanley was named second-team All-Big East and was 18th in the NCAA in save percentage.  

Although he isn't very confident about his conversational English yet, Iwamoto communicates via e-mail very well. When asked what Sunday's appearance will mean to him, he sent the following response.

"It would be a lie if I said that I wasn't honored to play in the MLL as the first Japanese lacrosse player. I will be playing for my family, friends,  and everyone who has supported and encouraged me," he said. "However, more importantly, I would just love to win this game, to clinch the playoffs and to [go on to ] win the championship. That's the reason why I'm here."

Another of Iwamoto's goals is to connect American lacrosse with Japanese lacrosse. He hopes one day to bring his MLL friends to Japan and help, "Grow this amazing game there."

Both the Outlaws and Rattlers could be missing seven regulars from their respective lineups this Sunday due to the completion of the World Games.

"Knowing that Jordan Wolf is not there, makes me feel a lot better," Seaman said with a laugh. "He's the one guy in the league we don't have many answers for." Wolf has 22 goals and 16 assists in six career regular-season outings against the Outlaws. 

In 2002, another Japanese player, Shinya Maruyama, spent some time with the Bayhawks but never appeared in a game. Maruyama played in four World Championships for Japan, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. 

"I am sure everyone who plays lacrosse  knows his name," Iwamoto said. "I have played with and against Maruyama when I was in Japan. He is really skillful, talented and a nice guy." 

Follow Kaisuke Iwamoto on Twitter @Ganpon02