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Before the Los Aztecas men’s lacrosse team ever even took the floor at the 2019 Sin City Box Classic in Las Vegas, the players made it a mission to represent their Mexican heritage. Months earlier, Diego Valenzuela and Enrique Rodriguez designed jerseys. They decided on two distinct colors — teal and gold.

Teal represented the jade that the Aztecs used to make daggers and jewelry in the 16th century. Jade symbolized life and purity and was used to adore the gods.

Gold represented the ancient sun gods. It was used for ornaments, decorations, plates and jewelry. The Aztecs placed gold and jade in their sacrificial offerings.

Los Aztecas, a team formed by the Valenzuela twins Diego and Ernesto, is comprised of players with Mexican heritage and some who call Mexico home. The Texas twins have played for the Mexican national team and wanted to create similar representation outside of international competition.

Los Aztecas was the perfect way for the Valenzuelas to honor their Mexican heritage and give them a chance to play the game they loved — one they discovered after they moved from Cancun to Minnesota with their parents, Alejandro and Paula, when they were in kindergarten some 25 years ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic halted Los Aztecas’ plans of competing in tournaments across the country this year, but players keep in touch via a group chat with current and future Mexican players. “It’s kind of like a big family that we’re creating,” Ernesto Valenzuela said. “It’s awesome to see this grow from the beginning.”

The Valenzuelas were introduced to the game in St. Louis Park, Minn. The adjustment from life in Cancun took time, but the Valenzuela family adjusted.

“The first year we moved up there was one of the worst blizzards ever, at least the last 20 years,” Diego Valenzuela said. “I didn’t know English, and one of the first memories I had was snow up to my knees.”

“We loved it,” Ernesto Valenzuela said. “We stuck it out for 15 years. The place is beautiful.”

Along the way, the twins found lacrosse through their hockey teammates. Ernesto, a soccer and hockey goalie, took his position between the pipes. Diego grabbed a pole. Together, they led St. Louis Park to a state championship.

At age 20, Ernesto Valenzuela traveled with the first Mexican national team to Manchester, England for the 2010 world championship. He’ll never forget the feeling of representing his country in international competition.

“It was surreal to be the goalie for Mexico,” he said. “It was an honor.”

Diego Valenzuela also had aspirations of playing for Team Mexico. He got that chance in 2019, when he played in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Vancouver, B.C. Mexico finished fifth in the Green Division. After one of his games, he proposed to his then-girlfriend, Jessica, in a moment that went viral.

After the tournament was completed, Diego Valenzuela wanted to capitalize on the momentum. He spoke with the organizers of the Sin City Box Classic and placed a deposit for a team that did not exist yet.

“We were hanging out in the hot tubs and we said, ‘Hey, should we start a team?’” he said. “We came up with the name and everything. It got my mind going and I figured, ‘Why not?’”

The Valenzuelas met Rodriguez, who had competed in the Vegas tournament the previous year. He helped Diego Valenzuela mock up logos and jersey designs. “After talking to Diego on a daily basis about what he wants to do and where he wants to go, I felt all three of us could continue to build from where we started,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez had been keen on representing his father’s country since he was introduced to the game in high school in Colorado. His father, Enrique Rodriguez Sr., moved from the Mexican state of Guanajuato to the western United States. He met his wife, Noami Duran, in Washington.

Rodriguez’s father didn’t watch him play lacrosse until he was college. But from that point on, he was hooked. He couldn’t stop asking his son about the new sport.

Rodriguez is one of several Los Aztecas players who live in Colorado, which has a large Mexican-American and Latinx community but whose lacrosse playing population does not necessarily reflect that — yet.

Los Aztecas finished the Sin City Box Classic in sixth place out of 14 teams, with three wins in six games. The play on the floor was exciting, but the bonds between teammates were even more impactful.

“We wanted it to be a bridge between the American players and Mexican players,” Diego Valenzuela said. “We wanted to bring Mexican players to the U.S. so they can experience high-level lacrosse, but also bring high-level lacrosse back to Mexico to show them what it looks like.”

LOCALLY GROWN: Mountain Region

Colorado 

Aspen Lacrosse Club honored former director and coach Mike Goerne, who died in 2019, by creating the Goerne Grows the Game fund. The “G3 Gift” will provide starter equipment to new players.

Iowa 

The Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Lacrosse Club partnered with the Solon Parks and Recreation Department to host a series of clinics over the summer.

Nebraska 

Ivy Wiens from Millard West High School earned the first US Lacrosse Jackie Pitts award in Nebraska state history. Ivy has been a member of the team since its inception and has worked to promote the growth of girls’ lacrosse at area schools.

North Dakota 

The Grand Cities Lacrosse Association (Grand Forks) and Red River Valley Lacrosse Association (Fargo) came together to play a home-and-home series and host chumash games over the summer.

South Dakota 

The Sioux Falls Stealth became the first semi-pro box lacrosse team in South Dakota state history.

Wyoming 

Jackson Hole Lacrosse Club hosted Ira Huff and Thomas Muldoon from Earth Lacrosse to educate players on Indigenous culture and the Native American roots of the game.