Ben Prepchuk coaches USBOXLA's elite players every summer through the Team USBOXLA national program. (Photo: Bryan Garcia)
When Ben Prepchuk was first introduced to USBOXLA, he was at the height of his professional lacrosse playing career. While a member of the National Lacrosse League’s Colorado Mammoth, he moonlighted as a coach for Matt Brown’s Denver Elite program.
Prepchuk worked with Brown, who was the co-founder of the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA), which was establishing itself as one of the most competitive and well-coached box lacrosse programs in the United States and western Canada.
After coaching in one of the top American box programs in the country, Prepchuk took his talents to the desert and founded Arizona Outlaws lacrosse in Scottsdale. It all began in the spring of 2016 with a box clinic for 25 kids in Anthem, Arizona. That number tripled to 65 kids for a summer tournament. In 2017, it doubled to 125. This past year, the Arizona Outlaws boasted 240 kids in their summer program.
“It’s been fun to watch Ben take his experiences from playing with the Burnaby Junior Lakers to playing in the National Lacrosse League and working with LXTC in Colorado to create his own identity and culture in the desert,” said Brown. “His passion for giving back to the sport is second to none, and we are lucky to have him growing this great game.”
Ben Prepchuk has provided his expertise, both indoors and out, in Arizona with the Outlaws. (Photo: Arizona Outlaws)
Prepchuk used the USBOXLA model established by Brown and co-founder Shaydon Santos when setting down roots in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Back in the day, when we first started playing in the NLL, we would go into these facilities where NLL teams practiced, and some of the times, you would see some kids indoors, but it certainly wasn’t box lacrosse,” said Prepchuk. “There were guys with long poles out there. It was weird to see. I think with USBOXLA and what Shaydon and Matt have put together is – from the rules to the referees – a direct correlation to what we grew up playing in Canada.
“When you have people teaching the game the way they grew up playing, and playing by those rules, you are going to get a sure game of box lacrosse, which is what they created. That is what we have been doing with our organization.”
Now in their third year, the Arizona Outlaws have flourished, expanding beyond the boundaries of Scottsdale to include players from the Phoenix Metro area, as well as Tucson. On the turf, their results have been astounding, achieving success regionally and nationally since their inaugural season. His journey began with a single Pee Wee team.
“We went to Matt Brown’s Denver tournament, and we ended up winning silver. It was a pretty good start,” he said. “Box lacrosse has everything you are looking for in a sport. It combines hockey and basketball with the physicality of football. It does not get any better.”
The Arizona Outlaws have been regular medal winners at the USBOXLA Nationals, winning three golds in 2018. (Photo: Zach Heffner)
The Arizona Outlaws have also been a dominant team at the USBOXLA Nationals, which is the country’s largest youth box lacrosse tournament. In 2018, the Outlaws swept the tournament, earning gold in the “B” Division at the Pee Wee, Bantam and Midget levels. This past year, the Arizona Outlaws won bronze at the Midget level. The success of his program has not gone unnoticed, especially by Brown.
“Ben has done an amazing job growing the game of lacrosse in Arizona,” said Brown. “He has created a program that’s professional and extremely competitive. It’s been impressive to see how his program has developed on the floor over the years, with the Outlaws having a ton success at (USBOXLA) Nationals.”
Taking his teams to California for the USBOXLA Nationals has become one of the highlights of the season for Prepchuk. In 2019, the event was the biggest yet, featuring 1,500 players from 25 states and provinces.
“The experience itself, at USBOXLA Nationals, is amazing,” said Prepchuk. “It starts with the atmosphere, and the kids just love it. It’s great to see the experience they get and how it translates to playing a game the right way. It is so great to see and so valuable for the players. The best part for me is seeing our kids now play like the Canadians do.”
Prepchuk, who also coaches for Team USBOXLA, has witnessed first-hand the evolution of American box lacrosse.
Ben Prepchuk is one of dozens of former and current National Lacrosse League players who have coached Team USBOXLA. (Photo: Sherri Thomson)
“We take our national teams up to Canada, and we are competing,” he said. “This past summer, our Pee Wees and Bantams competed in the gold medal game at the Trevor Wingrove Tournament in Vancouver. Within a couple of years, we went from maybe winning one game with all three of our teams to having two of our teams playing for a chance to win gold. It’s just a testament of our coaches teaching the players and the players buying into playing the game the right way.”
One of Prepchuk’s assistant coaches on the trip was USBOXLA veteran Ryland Rees, who was recently selected by the Rochester Knighthawks with the second overall pick in the National Lacrosse League Entry Draft.
“I coached with Prepchuk at the BC Tour last year as well as the Trevor Wingrove tournament,” said the Port Coquitlam, BC, native. “We coached the Bantam team and helped out with a few of the others. Ben has been able to be successful because he has a great knowledge for the game and wants to grow the game. The players that he coaches are American lacrosse players itching to get to know box lacrosse. He has started a great thing with the Arizona Outlaws, and with the passion he coaches with and the knowledge he has for the game, I have no doubt that his program will succeed.”
Prepchuk has been the right man for the job in expanding USBOXLA’s footprint in the Midwest. The 40-year-old brought a tremendous amount of knowledge to his new home state, having started playing as a 14-year-old for the Sherwood Park Titans in Alberta, Canada. With the Junior “A” Burnaby Lakers, he played in back-to-back national championships and helped the Lakers win the 2000 Minto Cup. Collegiately, he played two seasons of Division I lacrosse at Radford University in Virginia (1999 and 2000). Prepchuk captured another title in 2002, earning the Mann Cup as a member of the Brampton Excelsiors.
He made the jump to the pros after being selected third overall in the 2000 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft by the New York Saints. Prepchuk played eight seasons in the NLL for teams in New York, Calgary, Colorado, and Edmonton. In 2006, he was a part of the 2006 NLL Champion’s Cup-winning Colorado Mammoth.
Although no longer living in Canada, Prepchuk makes regular trips north of the border coaching Team USBOXLA. (Photo: Sherri Thomson)
In 2014, Ben and his wife, Lauren, left the snow and cold of Denver for the sun and warmth of Arizona.
“One day we just decided we were sick of snow and winter and so we decided to move to Arizona,” said Ben Prepchuk. “She grew up in the northeast; she is originally from Connecticut, and I’m from western Alberta, just outside of Edmonton. We have no family here, no nothing. We just decided and went.
“I got involved in lacrosse right away. I started coaching at a high school and coaching at another travel field program called Force Lacrosse. That’s how I got introduced to the valley and how I got my feet wet. I just went from there.”
A self-described lacrosse junkie, Prepchuk lives lacrosse 24/7. Not only is he the founder of Arizona Outlaws lacrosse, but he coaches at Boulder Creek High School and is the offensive coordinator at Arizona State University.
“It’s been great. I think on the grand scale of lacrosse in the United States, Arizona is one of those states that should have a lot more players playing lacrosse than they do,” said Prepchuk. “Compared to other states, we don’t have as many players playing here. It puts us at a disadvantage in terms of where we are drawing from, but I think those numbers are going to start to turn. We are going to start seeing more players signing up to play both box and field.”
Prepchuk’s latest venture was launching the USBOXLA-sanctioned Arizona Elite Box League (AEBL) in October. The eight-week program features kids at the Pee Wee, Bantam and High School Elite divisions. The AEBL, which is headquartered at the Arizona Sports Complex, combines practices and games to help introduce traditional field players to the box game.
“I had a high goal of having five or six teams at each age level,” he said. “I ended up with four Pee Wee teams, five Bantam teams and five high school teams. For our first go-around, we have 14 teams playing in a USBOXLA-sanctioned league, which I think is great for our first run.”
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years now, and I wasn’t sure what direction to take or how to get it going,” he said. “So, I decided at the beginning of the year to take a leap of faith. It’s not something I can do on my own. I’m going to oversee the league and going around to all the different clubs’ practices when I can and coaching the coaches.”
To ensure the success of his first-year venture, Prepchuk reached out to local high schools and the local youth clubs to join the Arizona Elite Box League. Spread throughout the league are a lot of the Outlaws players, which will create parity in the three divisions. The league is just another example of how Prepchuk growing box lacrosse in the state of Arizona.
“There are youth clubs that are in place here that are field programs that are taking the step to play box lacrosse. It’s going to be a great learning experience. I am excited about that,” he said. “I want to see smiling faces first and foremost. I want to spread the game that I grew up playing and a game that I love. It’s going to be amazing to show these kids another version of the sport.”