By Sam Wilson
Entering his third year hosting a tournament here, Ryan Powell feels the reputation of Ellicottville growing in the region’s lacrosse community.
The third annual Ellicottville Lacrosse Festival takes place this weekend at two local sites, bringing lacrosse players from as young as the third/fourth grade division to the 30-plus and 45-plus-year-old “Master “Divisions,” mostly from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Canada.
On Monday, Powell, the tournament director from his business, Rhino Lacrosse, sounded excited by sunny late-September days in the forecast.
“It looks like it’s supposed to be pretty nice this weekend, so we’re excited about that,” Powell said. “We have more men’s teams than we’ve had in years past so we’re excited about the growth on that side of things, and people have been talking about it, so a lot of teams will be returning for the third year in a row, so we’ve got something pretty good starting here where the excitement is getting around the lacrosse community about the area of Ellicottville and the tournament that we put on.”
Powell, 41, a former All-American at Syracuse and former pro at the NLL and MLL levels, founded Rhino Lacrosse in 2005 and runs camps, clinics and tournaments throughout the country. He compared Ellicottville favorably to many of the towns that lacrosse tournaments have flourished in.
“There’s a lot of things about Ellicottville that are really cool,” Powell said. “Some of the most successful tournaments that are out there are in similar type towns, Lake Placid, N.Y. being one of them. We’ve got one that’s out in Bend, Oregon, we’ve got one in Saratoga Springs, so I think that there’s a draw from the lacrosse community to cool, mountain-type towns and the vibe is important for them. It’s a beautiful place, there’s a lot to do and there’s awesome restaurants to eat at. The nightlife is really good and strong. There’s things for families to do in terms of getting up to Holiday Valley, up on the mountain and taking the carts down and things like that.
“Most importantly, the chamber of commerce and Ellicottville in itself have been very supportive of lacrosse and the tournament that we’re doing and we’ve built some really good relationships with people. Everybody’s just very supportive and we hear it all the time if they love our tournament and they love the fans and the players that come to the town to participate.”
The tournament begins in earnest on Saturday morning, but Finnerty’s Tap Room will hold an opening celebration from 7-10 p.m. on Friday. Games run all day (starting at 8 a.m.) on Saturday and from 8 until the mid-afternoon on Sunday, with championship games around 11 a.m. and noon, Powell said.
Games are set to be played at the Chamber Fields at the bottom of Holiday Valley and at the Ellicottville High School fields.
“There’s a good amount oh high school, JV and varsity, teams and then there’s a bunch of men’s open (divisions) and we have two masters divisions, a 30-plus and a 45-plus,” Powell said, “so that’s where we’re the heaviest. There’ll be about 40 teams that are participating.”
Powell said the tournament will not feature a college game, unlike last year, as St. Bonaventure did not decide to play a fall season.
“When a college team does that, it allows them to play an extra game in the springtime, so the coach (Randy Mearns) decided that they’re not doing a fall season,” he said. “Hopefully they do that again. I know that brought some excitement and a bunch of people to the town just to come in and watch that game, so we are hoping next year that will be the case.”
In addition to the games, the Seneca Nation will have a display featuring the history of lacrosse for visitors of the chamber fields.
“It’s a Native American game and there’s going to be an exhibit set up to showcase the game of lacrosse and the folks from the Cattaraugus Reservation are going to be putting that on,” Powell said. “So there’ll be that kind of display at the chamber fields. That’ll be pretty cool.”
And for those in the area less familiar with the sport, expect some action if you stop down to see the games.
“Lacrosse is the fastest game on two feet,” Powell said. “It’s action-packed, the ball moves quickly, it’s up and down. There’s usually a lot of scoring and we have teams from multiple states, there’s teams coming from Canada and it’ll be good competition. Lacrosse is a very exciting sport to watch. Never a dull moment.”