By Chris Mahoney | 8/7/12 1:00 PM
Lacrosse has always been a game that runs in the family. While every sport has seen its share of successful gene pools, lacrosse history is uniquely tied to family connections.
Of course, when one thinks of lacrosse families, the Powells are the gold standard. Casey, Ryan and Mikey Powell not only dominated the sport both at Syracuse and professionally, but their creativity and athleticism revolutionized the way the game was played.
Back when the Powell brothers were still stringing goalie sticks with fishing nets and the MLL did not even exist, the Gait brothers were the dominant force in college lacrosse at Syracuse. The innovative dunk-style goals, recently popularized in the MLL by players like Jovan Miller and Chazz Woodson, would be recognized by an older fan as an “Air Gait”, invented by Gary in college.
Though the Gait and Powell brothers played in the MLL, they are likely most remembered for their collegiate exploits. However, as the lacrosse expands and game grows in popularity, more lacrosse families are making names for themselves at the professional level.
Kevin and Mike Unterstein are teammates for the Long Island Lizards. Together the twin brothers make up one-third of the Lizards’ defensive unit. Short-stick defensive midfield can be a difficult position – especially with the number of elite offensive middies in the MLL – but the Untersteins have used their athleticism and physicality to bring an edge to the Lizards' defense.
They played on the same team in college at Hofstra, but entered the MLL as members of different organizations. When Kevin was a member of the Denver Outlaws, he remembers getting a rude welcome from his twin brother Mike in their first game as opponents.
“He brought me to the ground with a double-leg takedown,” Kevin says. Though he adds, “I can’t say it took me by surprise, because as twins, we were so competitive growing up”.
Kevin joined the Lizards this season, so he doesn’t need to worry about sibling rivalry anymore, at least for a few hours every week. Kevin says “It’s really great to have my brother on the field with me.”
Matt and Chris Bocklet have formed a unique tandem for the Denver Outlaws. The Bocklets play on opposite sides of the ball – Matt at defense and Chris at attack – and the brothers had never before played on the same team before this season, either in high school or college.
Both Matt and Chris won NCAA titles, Matt with Johns Hopkins in ’07 and Chris with Virginia in ’11. However, Matt says that it would be even better to win an MLL Championship with Chris at his side: “It would be amazing. That’s our goal. It’s been my goal for the past 4 years to bring home that MLL Championship to Denver… and it would make it even more special to do it with my brother.”
Chris has played very well in his rookie season, totaling 16 points in his first five games as a professional. Of course, it helps to be able to practice your one-on-ones against one of the MLL’s best defenders.
Sometimes, the Bocklets will go find a local field to resume what Matt calls a “friendly competition” between brothers, keeping their skills sharp against the opponent that knows them best.
If the Outlaws, who clinched a playoff spot last week, bring home the Steinfeld Trophy for the first time, odds are that the Bocklets will have a hand in it, on both ends of the field.
Brett and Brice Queener have played together for the past three seasons with the Hamilton Nationals. Brett, a goalie, is a fan-favorite because of his outgoing personality, and also his bold runs down the field. Brice has been a steady presence at defensive midfield this season for the Nationals, playing in all 12 games in front of Brett and Scott Rodgers. While this season has been disappointing for the Nationals, last season the team made it all the way to the finals before losing to the Cannons in the championship game.
Sibling connections in the MLL are everywhere, and not just with teammates. This Saturday, Coach Joe Spallina of the Long Island Lizards will need to try to figure out a way for his team to score on the Chesapeake Bayhawks’ defense, which is anchored by his brother, veteran defenseman Brian Spallina.
Brian has always had a physical edge to his game, which Joe says dates back to his childhood: “He always played with his older brothers. He was never playing with kids his own age, so I think that’s why he’s so tough and there’s no situation where he’s intimidated.”
“I love my brother,” says Joe, “I’ve been his biggest fan throughout his career. We’re both fiery competitors and for two hours on Saturday night we’ll get after each other but after the game we’ll hug and continue loving each other.”
With the success of both the Bayhawks and the Lizards this season, the Spallinas could see each other again – on Championship Weekend.
There is another unique player-coach relationship in Ohio, where Brett Garber plays for his father Ted on the expansion Ohio Machine. Ted says “Off the field he is my son but on the field I interact with him as one of the players trying to earn a spot on the game-day roster each week which he understands and respects.”
There is also more family talent on the way. Steele Stanwick and Billy Bitter, two of the most exciting young attackmen in the game, both have younger brothers currently playing college lacrosse. Wells Stanwick and Jimmy Bitter had strong freshman seasons for Johns Hopkins and North Carolina, respectively. While it’s too soon to project MLL success for either of the two, it does show that there are more lacrosse families on the way to make a name in the league.
Lacrosse continues to be a sport with strong family ties, and as the MLL continues to grow, it is only natural that families will continue to play with and against each other.