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Tuesday, April 24 Sports

Former Staples lacrosse standout Bergman shines at World Championships

Kyle Bergman, 26, picked up a lacrosse stick at age eight at the advice of his father, who was bored of watching endless Westport Little League games. Since that moment, Bergman has taken his game from Westport, to Canada, to a Division I college and now to Denver, the host of the 2014 World Lacrosse Championships representing Israel.

Bergman became an Israeli citizen in February. and is now representing the country at the highest level.

Bergman spent his formative years in Westport and learned the basic skills required to succeed at the next level.

"He gave me a lacrosse stick because it was entertaining to get my butt kicked," Bergman joked. "Fast forward 18 years and I'm here at the World Championships. It's unbelievable."

Held every four years since 1974, the World Lacrosse Championships has exploded in popularity. The first four tournaments had four countries and the 1994 edition just six. The 2014 version has 38 countries from six continents.

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"It's amazing," Bergman said. "There are 38 teams playing this year, everyone from the US National Team, comprised of the best players, all the way to Uganda, which for the first time ever put together a team. Everyone is really patriotic, yet friendly. It's amazing to meet guys on the other teams."

Bergman grew up playing in the Westport PAL before moving on to Staples High School. Bergman made the team as a freshman and played his first two seasons in Wreckers colors.

"I learned the game growing up in Westport," Bergman said. "I played for Staples for two years; I learned everything there. I had two different high school coaches in two years I was there, and I learned a lot."

Bergman moved to Canada following his sophomore year at Staples after his mom received a job offer in the Toronto area. Bergman went to a prep school and was the school's Athlete of the Year as a senior. Bergman also played soccer and basketball.

Bergman then moved on to Division I Drexel in Philadelphia, where he scored 61 goals and 39 assists in four seasons as a midfielder. Bergman was named captain as a senior and led the Dragons to the Colonial Athletic Association finals.

"I loved it at Drexel," Bergman said. "I was lucky to have a successful to career. It was a great overall experience. The camaraderie is similar to the vibe I have going now (at the World Championships)."

For the past two years, Bergman has played for the New York Athletic Club in the American Lacrosse League while working full time in the city. Bergman has helped the NYAC to two straight championships competing against squads from the Northeast.

Bergman tried out for the Israel national team last year and made the roster of 23.

Israel first fielded a lacrosse team in 2011 and competed in the European Championships the following year. Israel's roster features 23 players, 19 of whom are citizens and 12 who live in Israel.

"I knew we kind of flew under the radar," Bergman said. "We have 23 guys that are incredible athletes and more importantly are committed to growing lacrosse in Israel."

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That's not the only driving force behind the Israelis. Recent violence back home has created an unbreakable bond among the camp.

"We talk about it every day," Israel assistant Eric Wolfe said. "We can give those people some lift in their daily lives; they have to fight for their lives every day. It's been a great experience for us but they are going through a battle and they are on our minds every day."

Bergman scored six goals and added five assists in the five games for the Israelis, who are littered with former Division I standouts. Israel went 5-0 to start the tourney, outscoring the opposition 88-18 to reach the quarters.

"Kyle is a diverse player," Wolfe said. "He has some Canadian background in him, he is very shifty. What he brings the most is the energy; he lightens the mood in the huddle."

Israel fell 9-8 to Australia in the quarterfinals Wednesday to end the dream run, then fell 10-9 in overtime to England on Thursday. Israel completes the tournament on Friday against Japan.