For decades the U.S. has dominated international lacrosse, and Native Americans—the people who invented the sport—have struggled to keep up as a separate entity. The U.S. has money and some 150,000 players to draw from; only 86 players showed up at the Iroquois Nationals' U-19 tryouts in September.
So imagine the shock when, on July 17, the Nationals beat Team USA for the first time in international field competition. In pool play at the U-19 world championships in Turku, Finland, the Iroquois (above, in white) erased a two-goal halftime deficit to edge the U.S. 15--13. "This opened the eyes of the rest of the world: We can play lacrosse," says Nationals coach Freeman Bucktooth.
Alas, the Iroquois fell 12--7 to Team USA in the semis two days later. (They thrashed England 18--1 to win bronze last Saturday.) But beating the mighty U.S., which had never lost to any team but Canada, was a milestone for the Nationals only two years after they missed the world championships in England over a passport dispute.
"I have four sons, and all of them had lacrosse sticks from their day of birth," says Bucktooth. "We are a small community, and the players have a sense of history. It's important that we carry the tradition on."