While many college students are still making summer plans, Guilford College men's lacrosse first-year midfielder Trey Kawugulé has his plans. He will compete for the Ugandan national lacrosse team at the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships in Netanya, Israel July 12-21.
The FIL is lacrosse's international governing body, as FIFA is for soccer and FIBA for basketball. The FIL organizes lacrosse world championships for men and women, in addition to age-group championships.
Unlike soccer and basketball, lacrosse is not currently an Olympic sport. Men's lacrosse has been contested in the Olympics five times, but not since 1908 officially and in 1948 as a demonstration sport. With the game's recent growth and a surge in countries sponsoring national teams, lacrosse may soon be a part of future Olympics. There are 48 countries--including 34 full members--competing in the FIL World Championships.
Few NCAA Division III student-athletes get to play on the international stage, but Kawugulé will have this exciting and special opportunity. Only 14 current, incoming, or former Division III student-athletes competed at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"Trey is an amazing young man who has created an outstanding opportunity for himself. The World Games are an experience he will always remember," said Guilford men's lacrosse coach Tom Carmean. "Adding to this is that they are being held in Israel just makes this a once in a lifetime type of trip."
This will be Kawugulé's first appearance on the team and the second time Uganda has competed in this event. The nation participated in the 2014 World Championships in Denver, Colorado. Team Uganda defeated both Korea and Argentina at the competition.
Kawugulé, whose father is from Uganda and still has family living there, first learned of the team in 2012 through social media.
"I always have my pulse on all lacrosse social media and I saw something pop up about lacrosse in Uganda, so I was immediately interested in it," he said. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, being able to go and represent my heritage and play lacrosse in Uganda."
A defensive midfielder at Guilford, Kawugulé made the national team in December when he traveled to Uganda to participate in tryouts. While a reserve player for the Quakers, Kawugulé is perhaps Uganda's most experienced athlete. He is the only team member based outside of Uganda.
The tryout was very different to his American lacrosse experience, especially in terms of the conditioning.
"They are some of the best-conditioned players I've played with," said Kawugulé. "The passion for running and playing is amazing. We did a conditioning session at 6 a.m. and we were running for about two hours straight. None of those guys ever complained. I feel like in the US we have a very different mentality when it comes to conditioning, that it's kind of a necessary evil. For some reason over there, they're just excited to do it and it's a really awesome thing to see."
Although Kawugulé had never met another team member before crossing the ocean, he had already created relationships with them on social media. "I actually kept up with a lot of these guys from 2014 up until now. I was pretty much friends with at least 10 of the guys," he said.
Lacrosse is a very young sport in Uganda and can be very different to the US.
"It's definitely less organized. The way that they play is a little more helter-skelter. It's a physical kind of game and in the US it's more of a finesse kind of game," said Kawugulé.
The Ugandan team is still in its infancy and looks to build on the success at the 2014 World Championships. Where it team won two games and finished in 34th place. The Cranes drew international attention as the first African team to compete in a world lacrosse championship.
"I think the big focus of Uganda lacrosse and the coaching staff is to dispel the myth that Uganda lacrosse is sort of a gimmick," said Kawugulé. "It was awesome to see the outpouring of support in 2014, but no one involved in Uganda lacrosse wants to be seen as the token African nation. We want to be competitive."
The Cranes are rare in that Kawugulé is their lone "non-passport" player. Most other developing countries have more team members--mostly from the lacrosse hotbeds of the USA or Canada--to augment homegrown talent.
The team is supported by the Uganda Lacrosse Foundation, an American non-profit that helps run the team. It hires the coaching staff, sets up mini-camps in Uganda, and raises funds to support the team's effort. The Ugandan coaching staff is made up of Americans, including head coach Pete Ginnegar.
"Trey is a remarkable young man and he is an integral player for us," Ginnegar said. "We expect to play Trey at midfield, but also at attack."
The team trains regularly in Uganda, usually three-to-four times a week. The roster consists of young men between the ages of 17 and 34. Kawugulé will join his teammates for a brief training camp before Team Uganda travels to Israel.
From July 12-21, the Cranes will play seven-to-nine matches in Israel against other countries building their lacrosse programs. The team's goal is to finish in the top 20. Team Uganda, however, has to face Japan, ranked eighth in the World, and Bulgaria (17th) in divisional play. The winner of the division advances to contend for a medal.
"Trey is a great ambassador for both Uganda and lacrosse," said Ginnegar. "We obviously want to play well in the tournament, but we are looking to the future, too. We expect to have a U-19 team competing, too, and want to lay the groundwork for Uganda Lacrosse to be strong in the future."
"Trey's experience is such a positive for Trey and Team Uganda," said Carmean. "We have been excited throughout the process and really look forward to seeing how it goes for him and his team this summer. "
Team Uganda is continually seeking support. For those interested in helping the fledgling team--or to learn more about the program--please visit http://www.ugandalacrosse.org/donationsbackthecranes
- Andrew Walker '18