Steamboat 8th-graders excel among competitors at lacrosse tournament |

Steamboat 8th-graders excel among competitors at lacrosse tournament

Luke Graham

Ben Wharton works the ball around Saturday at the Steamboat Classic Lacrosse Tournament. Wharton and fellow eighth-grader Peter White have been key cogs in the Steamboat Youth Lacrosse program and for the eighth-grade team this year.

— Peter White and Ben Whar­ton are prime studies in the ever-growing sport of lacrosse in Steamboat Springs.

But maybe more than that, they're proving that the growth of lacrosse in Steamboat Springs isn't defined just in numbers anymore.

The two eighth-graders, like most of their teammates, have been in the Steamboat Youth Lacrosse program since fifth grade. They are two of the better players in the program and already are looking forward to their start in the high school program.

Peter, who plays midfield, played up last year at some point with the eighth-grade team. Although he's often one of the smaller guys on the field, it's tough to tell whether it makes a difference.

"Last year, Ben broke his leg snowboarding, so he didn't actually play," eighth-grade coach Sam Lane said. "Peter has always been the most aggressive, fastest and sneakiest player.

"With Ben, it's awesome to have a kid of that caliber show up out of nowhere. I didn't know what to expect, but they're a great 1-2 punch. Teams might have one solid defenseman, but you can't cover both of them."

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Peter and Ben have played together since fifth grade. Ben and his family moved to Steamboat from Gunnison when Ben was in third grade. Before that, Ben had never seen or heard of lacrosse.

But one day, he saw a lacrosse stick at Backdoor Sports and was hooked.

Now, the two have a chemistry when they take the field. It was evident Saturday morning at Gardner Field as Steamboat breezed past Battle Mountain, 10-1, during the opening game of the Steamboat Classic Lacrosse Tournament.

"While we're playing lacrosse, we click," Ben said. "It's been like that ever since we've been playing. It's nice to play with Peter. We know how each other plays."

What makes the two stand out, Lane said, is their work ethic. Lane played college lacrosse at Division III powerhouse Washington College in Maryland and has coached with Steamboat Youth Lacr­osse for two years.

He said at the high school level, successful programs have great feeder programs. Beyond that, it's up to the individual players.

Just through their play, Lane said, Peter and Ben make the rest of the team work harder.

"It's the desire of kids moving up," Lane said. "These are kids that work that hard and are really good role models for these guys even though they are at the same age. When others see kids with that talent level, it makes them want to try harder."

It also helps that the two come from pretty darn good lacrosse families.

Peter's older brother, Andrew, graduated Saturday from Steamboat Springs High School as one of the better attackmen in the region. Ben's older brother, John, is a rising junior who was a key cog for the Sailors, as well.

"Andrew was voted captain for the lacrosse team," Peter said. "Sometimes, we play in the backyard. I get a lot out of him because he's a great player."

The two are looking forward to high school and especially lacrosse. Each said they know they're probably a couple of years away from contributing at the varsity level. But each already has the idea of helping Steamboat advance past the first round of the state playoffs, which the Sailors have yet to do.

"It might not be next year. We probably won't have a big impact on varsity," Peter said. "But in the future, I hope we can go further in the playoffs. I really hope we can go further."

The tournament resumes at 8 a.m. today across fields at Emerald Park and Gardner Field.

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