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Transcontinental Teamwork

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Two local brothers, who both played lacrosse at Hagerty High School, join forces again on the Slovakian National Team.

The strong bond between brothers has been written about in literature since ancient times. Especially when close in age, the experiences brothers share throughout their lives create an indelible and lasting bond between them. For Andy Kurila (26) and his brother Jim (23), their special bond surrounds the sport they both love – lacrosse.

Andy and Jim both started playing lacrosse at the age of 12, and each quickly realized it was the sport they wanted to pursue seriously. They grew up in Oviedo and attended Hagerty High School, but when Andy (a goalie) was a senior playing on the Hagerty High varsity team, Jim (a defender) was a freshman playing on the JV squad. As such, they never actually played together.

That changed at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. When Andy was a senior there, Jim started as a freshman, and because the college’s lacrosse program was new, it featured only one team with both upper- and underclassmen.

“It was a great experience finally playing with him,” says Jim. “As a freshman, I definitely felt more comfortable having him there, and he had switched positions to midfielder, so we actually got to interact more on the field.”

Andy graduated, and during the summer of Jim’s junior year, he got the opportunity to play in Europe through USA Athletes International (USAAI), whose mission is to bring the world’s athletes together through sports and education. Jim played against teams such as Germany, Austria, and Slovakia. Being of Slovakian descent, he took the opportunity to get to know some of the Slovakian players.

“One of the players asked if my brother and I would like to play with them in the upcoming world championships for Slovakia,” explains Jim. “I told Andy, and he started communicating with the team, as well. Before we knew it, we were preparing to go to Israel.”

The FIL Men’s Lacrosse World Championships is comparable to soccer’s World Cup. Every four years, teams from around the world come together to play lacrosse. This year, the event was held in Netanya, Israel. For the Kurila brothers, to be able to play in such a prestigious event, together, and for the Slovakian National Team, was something they never could have imagined.

“It was overwhelming at first,” admits Andy. “I had never flown out of the country before, and it took three flights just to get to Israel. We met the Slovakian players at the airport, and it was my first time meeting them. Thankfully, they were really nice and welcoming.”

Andy and Jim began to immerse themselves in the experience, as well as Slovakian culture. Most importantly, they had to have a working knowledge of the language to be able to communicate on the field.

“We spent 11 days together and were with each other all the time, so we learned a lot about each other,” Jim says of his teammates. “Before our first game, when they played the Slovakian national anthem, it was a surreal and emotional experience for us. We connected with our heritage and have never been prouder to be Slovakian.”

The team fared well, finishing in the middle of the pack among 46 countries – the nation’s best showing in three appearances. They played seven games in the span of 11 days against teams such as New Zealand, Argentina, Jamaica, Austria, and the Netherlands.

“The best part for me was playing with my brother,” says Andy. “We were able to tour Jerusalem together, and it was great to know he was there with me, both on and off the field.”

Jim agrees. “Having shared this experience with Andy was life-changing, and we’ve made some great friends in the process,” he says. “The Slovakian players want us to play with them in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship next year in British Columbia and the European Lacrosse Championship in 2020 in Poland, so this could become a thing.”

Whether it does or not, the brothers’ time in Israel will never be forgotten. It is the kind of experience that strengthens the already strong bonds between siblings, and Andy and Jim are grateful for that.

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