U-19: South Korea on the Rise

By Nelson Coffin

South Korea did not come to Towson with designs to win the men's 2003 Under-19 championships. They came to play respectable lacrosse in their debut on the hyper-competitive international stage. And they did just that, establishing a spot in the middle of the pack for the fledgling national effort. Relative to the other first-timers at the 10-day event, they managed to put on a pretty good show despite their rookie status.

For the most part when the Koreans played well, they outclassed rivals. They walloped Wales and Germany by a combined 34-3 score, which included the only shutout of the men's tournament in a 17-0 thrashing of the Germans. On the other hand, Korea suffered 25-5 and 20-6 setbacks to established Australia and Japan programs, respectively. They split their two most competitive matches, topping Wales, 14-6, and dropping a hotly-contested outing against Japan, 12-8.

Coverage of the 2003 U-19 Games

Folks apt to look at the glass half-full will point to the fact that Korea finished 3-3 and went undefeated against fellow newcomers Wales and Germany. A half-empty hypothesis would state that the Koreans have a lot of catching up to do, especially in Korea, to really join the sport's inner circle. Both would be correct.

Midfielder Andrew Sung is from Greensburg, PA and plays at Princeton

Unlike their European counterparts, the Koreans decided to allow players with American ties to dominate their roster. A handful of Koreans are students at lacrosse-playing colleges, including Tufts, RIT, Rutgers, Princeton and Swarthmore. Others attend Washington University and Baruch College. Players culled from U.S. prep programs such as Friends (Baltimore), Lawrenceville, Avon Old Farms and Holderness joined forces with schoolboys from other high schools across the nation to give the Koreans a familiar flair.

A JROTC Laxer at Chantilly HS in northern Virginia, Young Joo wants to play college ball at one of the academies

By contrast, the Germans kept their roster restricted to native Duetschlanders after trying mixed teams on their adult world games team for a decade. They were pounded in the process but feel that they are at the point when the nationals have to carry the program to advance lacrosse in Germany. Korea, still in the infancy of introducing the game "in country", went the American route after considering limited options. "We had a mixed team," said Korean Team Director Ed Chung, who is also the Korean Lacrosse Association International Affairs Director. "But it wasn't by choice. We just didn't have enough players at that age-group."

A pair of Korean performers from the Baltimore area, Ben Barchey and David Park, are typical of the American-bred players that earned spots on the team. Both had a blast in the process, bonding with native Korean kids while mixing it up against the best age-group performers in the world. Although a year younger than Park, Barchey probably had an edge in experience because of the competition the rising senior experienced in high school. His Friends School squad competed in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, generally regarded as the top prep league in the nation.

Ben Barchey, David Park and Alex Hahn, also from the Baltimore area

The 5-foot-7, 150-pound attackman had 17 goals and 20 assists for the Quakers this spring and turned the heads of South Korea co-coaches Ted and Bill Woolford, the driving forces behind the most renowned high school program in Ohio, state-runner up (to Dublin-Scioto) Upper Arlington. "Benny established himself right away," Ted Woolford said about the short but skilled Barchey. "He took on a leadership role and was a lot of fun to work with."

Head Coach Bill Wolford

Park, more in the American mold of bigger defenders, who hails from nearby Loch Raven High in Towson, used smarts and size (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) to impress the brothers Wolford. "He's a quiet kid but he would tell guys when they made mistakes," said Bill Woolford. "He wasn't afraid to do that."

Korea did a great job on the merchandising and presence at the games...

The youngsters were not adverse to learning some things from the native South Koreans on the roster. "I never knew much about kim chee," Barchey said about the Korean culinary staple. "But we ate a lot of it, and I liked it. Plus, I mastered the art of using chopsticks."

...and added to the international flare of the event!

Park's parents are from Korea, so he had a better handle on the Korean native tongue. Barchey was adopted by an American couple when he was less than 1 year old, which made any more than rudimentary communication a sticky thicket to get through. "I can understand what they're saying," Park said. "But I couldn't speak too well in Korean."

Korean program director Ed Chung flanked by Ted and Bill Wolford

Barchey had three goals off the bench in the second triumph over Wales to give him a team-best 15 for the tournament. The South Koreans won three of four games in the round-robin format to finish runner-up to Asian archrival Japan in the men's Red Division bracket (comprised of less experienced teams). That 12-8 loss to the Japanese may have been the toughest to take for Barchey and Park, even more so than the blowout to their Asian rivals. "I think we were intimidated going into the games," said Barchey, who scored twice in each encounter. "And we thought they were a little cocky. There was a little hostility there." Added Park: "We thought they were laughing at us in the beginning. But they ended up being pretty good guys."

Dan Chung is an AA Midfielder from Morristown, NJ and will play at Harvard

Beating a squad that has some history, such as Japan, will be difficult for the South Koreans until their own traditions are more fully developed. "The first time we played together was the Monday before the tournament," Park said, adding that after a period of adjustment, everybody meshed better. "At the beginning, it was tough because we had two levels of players trying to play together," said Ed Chung. "The difference in levels and cultures showed. I think it was frustrating for the more advanced guys."

Coaches, too, had to simplify game-plans. "We didn't even know who was going to be on the team," said Ted Wolford. "So we kind of over-prepared. We just had to scale back. We were trying to teach something in two days that would normally take five weeks." The players were willing to be pushed to the limit, though. "They said we were too nice," Ted wolford chuckled. "But we knew that the best Korean players, when they're playing here, are at the bottom of the totem pole. So it was tough for them. But it was so neat to see the kids interact. By the end of the tournament they were signing each other's jerseys. They seemed to be enjoying everything."

Having Barchey and David Park helped matters. "They're both great kids," Ted Wolford said. "The kind of kids we'd like to have in our program."

Paul Kim from Wycoff, NJ plays for the Rutgers club team

Wolford had at least two other go-to guys on the offensive end, New Jersey high school products Brian Park (Ramapo) and Dan Chung (Morristown). Park finished with 14 goals and six assists while Chung totaled a dozen goals and five feeds. Princeton second-line middie Andrew Sung led the team with 12 assists. Five came in the second wales win. Seung Jae Lee averaged better than six saves per outing while Californian (Encinitas) Jerrell Wallace set the pace in face-off percentage for the Korean club.

Attackman Eric You attends Thomas Jefferson High in northern Virginia

The whole week was a success for the young Korean program but they hope to take another step in 2007. Like the Japanese team has chased the Iroquois during their program's development, making them the team to beat in order to measure progress, the Koreans have targeted the Japanese. The next step in the progression is beating their eastern neighbor. It may take a few four-year stretches to achieve that goal, but what will occur in the meantime, as we witnessed in June, is a rivalry that will build and become legendary in the international game.

So after such a great week of play by the Koreans in their debut, E-Lacrosse can only say "Well played. Welcome, South Korea, to the greatest game in the world! We'll be watching you with great interest."