Mac Missiles, Lockdown 'D' and More U.S. Men's Takeaways from Fall Classic

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Mac O'Keefe scored four goals during this weekend's Fall Classic.


The USA Lacrosse Fall Classic offered no shortage of highlights and stingy defense, as the U.S. men notched an impressive win over Canada and a thrilling finish against Virginia. A few performances and storylines stood out above the rest at the first U.S. men’s senior team event in 22 months.

Here are five takeaways from the team’s two wins at William G. Tierney Field at USA Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md.

RETURN OF THE MAC

When Mac O’Keefe gets his hands free, the “ping” usually follows. The NCAA Division I men’s all-times goals leader, who finished his career at Penn State with 221 tallies in 66 games, made the pipes sing this weekend while wearing the red, white and blue for the first time since he won gold at the FIL U19 Men's World Lacrosse Championships.

O’Keefe was the only multi-goal scorer in the 11-5 win over Canada Friday night and registered the U.S.’s final two goals. He continued to have the scoring touch against Virginia, opening the game with another pair of goals.

“The way that U.S. offense was moving the ball and certainly the way O’Keefe was finishing was almost unstoppable,” Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany said of the first quarter in which the U.S. took a commanding 5-0 lead and outshot the Cavaliers 12-1.

O’Keefe showed off his trademark underhand stroke on both goals against UVA, which were created off no-look assists from Tom Schreiber and Grant Ament, respectively. It was Ament and O’Keefe’s first game playing on the same attack line together since Penn State’s final game of the pandemic-shortened season against Furman on March 10, 2020.

“Mac is one of those guys where if he flashes his stick and you make eye contact with him, you throw him the ball and let him do whatever he wants,” Ament said this spring the week before O’Keefe broke the goals record on Senior Day at State College against Michigan. “That was my rule.” 

Yet O’Keefe, playing in his natural spot of lefty attack after he spent the summer bumping up to midfield for the PLL champion Chaos, showed he has more than just an outside shot on Tierney Field. He dodged underneath and finished on the crease after several fakes for his second goal of the night against Canada. He threaded a pass through the defense to find Ament backside to open the scoring in the second half against UVA.

“It was nice to go back down to attack, but I think having that experience [playing midfield] opens my eyes to different areas of the field and what midfielders are thinking when they’re playing,” O’Keefe said. “It’s helped my game be more well-rounded overall.”

Keep your eyes out for a “Game Ready” piece later this month detailing the intricacies of O’Keefe’s shooting style.

A DIFFERENCE IN PHILOSOPHIES

The introduction of the World Lacrosse Sixes discipline and inclusion of both men’s and women’s lacrosse in the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, has presented new opportunities for the world’s two lacrosse superpowers — and a study in contrasting philosophies.

Canada went with a young lineup at the Fall Classic. Ten current collegians suited up for the Canadians against a U.S. team comprised entirely of pros. That balance will shift this weekend in the World Lacrosse Super Sixes event, also at USA Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Maryland. Expect a more veteran Canada side and a younger U.S. squad.

The takeaway here? Canada sees Sixes as a chance to expand its box lacrosse superiority to the new field discipline, considering the similarities, and to make a statement on the international stage in 2022. The U.S. might have a longer view on it, looking not necessarily at Birmingham 2022 but LA 2028 — and the hope that lacrosse returns to the Olympic Games — as the inflection for its developing Sixes program.

That said, with two Sixes evaluation camps under its belt, the Americans might just be more comfortable with the nuances of the discipline that fall somewhere in between box and field.

— Matt DaSilva







THE AMENT WAY

It was a weekend of firsts for Ament, who was cut from the U.S. U19 team in 2016. The 2021 PLL leader in regular-season points and attackman of the year with the Archers looked comfortable attacking from the righty wing and X in his first games with the senior team. He led all scorers with three goals and one assist against Virginia a night after he scored one goal against Canada with a slick split dodge to bounce shot when he crossed goal line extended.

Ament called out offensive sets for the U.S. when he was in against Virginia, just like Rob Pannell did when he played in the second and fourth quarters. Ament, who considers Pannell a mentor and friend, played on the same attack line with his former idol-turned-teammate in the first and third quarters against Canada.

After the game and before he signed any autographs, Ament had a fan moment of his own meeting Hampton University head men’s lacrosse coach Chazz Woodson, whose electrifying style in Major League Lacrosse captivated Ament and a generation of players.

“I’ve been watching you for forever,” Ament told him.

FROM THE PERKING LOT

Over the past two summers, Sergio Perkovic has proven he’s one of the most reliable shooters in the world from range. The distance of his roll back bounce shot goal in the third quarter against Virginia even led LSN play-by-play announcer Tom Eschen to call it a two-pointer before quickly correcting his mistake.

It’s easy to understand the confusion. Perkovic, a midfielder for the Redwoods, led the PLL in two-pointers the past two summers. This weekend, he scored a pair of carbon-copy goals, getting his hands free each time with a roll-back dodge. Unlike O’Keefe’s golf swing-esque release, Perkovic uses a more traditional overhand stroke and often incorporates the ground.

As the saying goes, high bouncers will go.

A good way to gauge a shooter’s gravity is by the sound teammates on the field or sideline make when he releases the ball. Bryan Costabile’s on-the-run snipe (and SSDM’s Dominique Alexander’s “bye, bye” before it even hit the net) against Canada was one of the highlights of the weekend.

LOCKDOWN D

It didn’t take long for Jack Rowlett to announce his presence on Saturday against former ACC foe Virginia. The two-time PLL defensive player of the year finalist who held Zed Williams scoreless in this year’s title game executed a perfectly timed over-the-head check against Virginia midfielder Peter Garno to create his first caused turnover of the weekend.

“Way to take his lunch money,” a teammate told Rowlett when he returned to the sideline.

“I’m getting confident in the over-the-head,” Rowlett said after the 8-7 win. “I’m getting comfortable with it. I feel like my hands are quick enough at this point where if I see it, I can get it.”

The entire U.S. defense seemed to play with a similar confidence all weekend. They surrendered only five goals to Canada and limited PLL rookie of the year attackman Jeff Teat to only one goal — it was also his only point of the game. A day later, they held Virginia to only two goals in the first half, despite committing five penalties and being outshot 12-1. While the Cavaliers nearly pulled off an electrifying comeback in part by taking advantage of seven U.S. turnovers in the fourth quarter, the defense held strong and Rowlett sealed the win with a wraparound takeaway check on freshman attackman Tucker Mullen.

The U.S. “D” also showed its range with most close defenders taking runs at LSM in addition to Jared Conners. Liam Byrnes organizing the defense on the interior and veteran Jesse Bernhardt tasked with the No. 1 cover assignment looked like a winning combination. Amongst other standouts, JT Giles-Harris appeared fully recovered from surgery for a knee injury he sustained in Duke’s NCAA semifinal loss to Maryland. He played particularly well against Canada’s Chris Cloutier (0-for-4). 

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