Scan the roster of the OCC Men’s Lacrosse team and you’ll find ten players who have come to campus from outside the United States. No two players have traveled further to get here than Kiochi Nakamura and Peter Kwas. Nakamura is from Fukuoka, Japan, Kwas from Melbourne, Australia. “It helps we’re two foreign kids in another country,” said Kwas. “We have that connection between us.”
They also share a meteorological connection. Both freshmen come from much warmer climates. “It’s too cold here. Too much snow,” said Nakamura. Kwas remembers flying from Melbourne to Syracuse in January. “It was 30 celsius (86 Fahrenheit) when I left home and -8 celsius (17 Fahrenheit) when I got off the plane. Not fun!”
How do student-athletes from thousands of miles away wind up in Central New York? Both of their stories show how close-knit the world of lacrosse is. Kwas was playing lacrosse in Australia against an American who had played for a community college which competed against the Lazers. “He suggested I check out OCC. I sent an email to (Head) Coach (Chuck) Wilbur and wound up here.” Nakamura was playing at ASA College in New York City. His head coach was former OCC player Shaun Church. When Church decided to return to OCC as an assistant coach, Nakamura joined him.
Both players were attracted to lacrosse for different reasons. Nakamura’s first love was basketball but at some point realized he was looking up at most of his opponents. “Most kids were growing but I wasn’t. Basketball became difficult for me. That’s when I started playing lacrosse. I started watching it on YouTube and it was amazing!” Kwas’ attraction to lacrosse was for a much different reason. “I started playing initially because it got me out of grade school. My mom didn’t really like that. I kept playing and started taking it seriously when I was 15 or 16.”
Both student-athletes now play lacrosse year round and hope to turn their experience at OCC into scholarships at four-year colleges. This summer Nakamura will return home to Japan and bring a handful of Lazer teammates with him. They’ll teach at lacrosse clinics across the country while proudly wearing their OCC gear.