A Very Russian Experience

A study-abroad student helps lead a national Russian lacrosse team to victory and students host a transcontinental talent show back home.

Chase Philpot ’14 (second row, far right; jersey #3) recently competed in a national lacrosse championship in Russia. His team, the Moscow Rebels, captured the cup.

A study-abroad student helps lead a national Russian lacrosse team to victory and students host a transcontinental talent show back home.

Chase Philpot ’14 (second row, far right; jersey #3) recently competed in a national lacrosse championship in Russia. His team, the Moscow Rebels, captured the cup.

While the Dickinson lacrosse teams made headlines at home, one Dickinsonian made waves overseas when he helped lead a national lacrosse team to victory during the third-annual Russian Lacrosse National Championship.

A double major in Middle East studies and Russian, Chase Philpot '14 is studying in Russia this year courtesy of the Boren Scholarship, a part of the National Security Education Program that supports the study of languages deemed critical by the U.S. government. While researching resources in his new host city, he was surprised to discover that Moscow is home to a national lacrosse team, the Moscow Rebels.

Philpot, who had played the sport through his elementary- and high-school years, promptly contacted the team through the Russian social-networking system, Vkontakte, and soon, he was a member of the team.

Philpot relates that despite the language difference, he felt right at home during the practices, and even helped lead practice drills. So when, after just a few sessions, his coach invited him to join the team in the upcoming Rhino Cup tournament, he didn't hesitate to accept.

"The coach basically asked me, 'By the way, are you free next weekend? Because we are flying to Belgium to play in a tournament,' " Philpot recalls, communicating from Moscow via e-mail. "Despite having no gear of my own—I hadn't brought anything with me, because I hadn't expected to play lacrosse in Russia—I purchased a ticket and told the coach I was in."

Let the games begin!

Named after the mascot of the hosting team, the 2012 Rhino Cup brought together teams from Russia, Belgium, Sweden, Spain and France. Philpot borrowed cleats, a stick and a helmet—and a jersey emblazoned with a teammate's name, since he hadn't had time to get his own—and flew to Belgium to play.

The games were close—a victory in itself for a team that included many new players—but although Philpot scored several times in each match, the Muscovites claimed only one win out of four. Then came the big challenge: the Capitol Cup championship, pitting the Moscow Rebels against the St. Petersburg White Knights.

One of only two national lacrosse teams in the Russian Federation, the Knights had captured the trophy during the previous year's championship against Rebels. The time had come, the Rebels hoped, to earned it back.

Comical conditions

The championship began encouragingly; within minutes of the first whistle, the Moscow players put the first point on the board, and by halftime, they had a seven-point lead. But it wasn't easy sailing. Recent rains had waterlogged the field, creating slippery conditions so extreme that they bordered on the comical.

"Both teams managed to overcome the circumstances and played with incredible knowledge of the game, skill, and finesse, although there were times when I doubted we were actually playing lacrosse," Philpot relates. "At points, the game resembled American football with a Slip 'n Slide thrown in." The confusion was compounded by the fact that only one of the referees had a whistle.

In the end, the Moscow Rebels sailed to a muddy 12-7 victory that secured the trophy for Philpot's team. ("At least that's what we think the score was," Philpot jokes, referring to the happy chaos of the day.)

"A very Russian experience"

Philpot, who plans to remain in Russia through June, says that his experiences on the Moscow team have had several lasting benefits. Because practice spaces in crowded Moscow are hard to come by, the team must continually scout out new locales, so Philpot has become very well acquainted with the city.

"Spending time with Russian teammates, I've also been able to pick up [slang and everyday conversation] that I wouldn't necessarily learn in the classroom," he adds. "It improved my confidence while speaking and has given me a deep appreciation for what a rich language Russian truly is."

More significantly, the championship was, as Philpot describes it, "a very Russian experience—coming down to the last minute, making do with what's available, and it all somehow coming together." 

Next semester, Philpot hopes to apply his insider's view of Russian culture in new contexts. After having studied sustainable-living practices, anthropological history and politics in Jordan and Israel during his sophomore and junior years, Philpot will continue his study of Middle-Eastern cultures next year, and he says that the experiences he's gathering this year will inform his work.

"I hope to find common ground between [the Middle Eastern and Russian cultures] and study the ways they combine and clash," he explains.

In the meantime, this worldly Dickinsonian is simply busy relishing his recent victory and gearing up for the next Rebels match. "Our ranks have been filling quickly," he says, adding: "Russians can't seem to get enough of this dynamic sport."

Published January 12, 2013