New Process, Same Leaders: U.S. Men Begin Journey to San Diego at Tryouts

PHOTO BY NICK IERADI


SPARKS, Md. — John Danowski trotted onto Tierney Field on Tuesday night and shook hands with just about every U.S. men’s national team staff member he could find — a testament to his easy-going persona and joy for interaction.

He cracked jokes with Ryder Garnsey, comparing the week’s heat and humidity to “February in South Bend.” He leaped to dodge a deflected shot during warm-ups and hunted down the man who launched it.

It’s the same enthusiasm Danowski had when he stepped into the role as head coach of the U.S. men’s national team in late 2014. He inherited a team looking for revenge and led the U.S. to the gold medal in Netanya, Israel.

This summer, and this week, admittedly felt different for the legendary coach — so much has occurred since the run to gold in 2018, and so many of the critical members of that team have moved on. The last world championship cycle lasted three years, whereas this time will be built in just over 365 days.

“Last time around, we were able to build around singular events,” he said. “We knew the foundation and we were looking to fill around them. Here, the tryouts are more important than last time. The dynamic coming into 2018 was that we had guys that lost in 2014, so there was an edge. We had guys who didn’t make the team, and they had an edge. This team is much younger, and they don’t have either of those experiences.”

The new generation of 67 U.S. national team prospects met this week at USA Lacrosse headquarters for senior team tryouts — some returning from the last tryout process hoping to repeat, some pushing for their first spot after multiple attempts and many suiting up in the red, white and blue for the first time.

With such a variety of talent and experience, and just one year until the world championship in San Diego next summer, the job for Danowski and his staff is entirely different than the one they approached eight years ago.

However, he brings back continuity with assistants Seth Tierney and Joe Amplo, adding a former evaluator in Charley Toomey to round out his staff.

“We had a lot of fun the first time around. We had fun on the phone, we had fun talking, we had fun being together,” Danowski remembered. “The hope is that the players feed off of that. We’re giving up our time and we have to make sure we’re having fun with this. It’s really important to maintain the chemistry that we have and hopefully, we can be role models for this team.”

This week, those in attendance spent plenty of time walking through the concepts of international lacrosse, like situational offense without a shot clock, clearing and time management. Veterans like Michael Ehrhardt, Marcus Holman and Tom Schreiber guided newcomers like Tewaaraton winner Logan Wisnauskas, Virginia junior Connor Shellenberger and Maryland NCAA champion Brett Makar.

Morning practices featured walkthroughs of offensive and defensive concepts, leaving energy for the night sessions, where the pool split into three teams and played 15-minute, full-field games.

The three-day camp will be short, but it marks the start of a process that will end on the West Coast, where this time, the U.S. will be the hunted.

“Netanya was so special,” Danowski said. “We’re not trying to duplicate that. We’re just trying to live the next experience.”







NAT ST. LAURENT INSPIRES

At the conclusion of the morning walkthrough on Wednesday, Danowski went quiet and turned with eyes at Nat St. Laurent, the Redwoods LC head coach and an evaluator for the U.S. men’s national team tryout.

“Would you like to talk to ‘em?” Danowski asked.

“Absolutely,” St. Laurent answered.

St. Laurent was not expecting to speak on Wednesday, or at all during the three-day tryout process. His job was to evaluate and support the players that made the trip to Maryland. However, after Danowski opened practice with a reminder about the power of representing your country, he started to reflect on his own journey.

Danowski’s words struck a chord for St. Laurent, the former staff sergeant and ROTC instructor who spent 13 years in the U.S. Army Reserves. He pulled Danowski aside and told him how his fellow coach’s words helped him look back at his time representing his country.

"I’m going to have you talk about that with the team," Danowski replied.

St. Laurent spent five minutes sharing his experiences with the Army Reserves with the 67 members of the tryout — the importance of teamwork, the value of doing the job assigned to you and making sure to have your teammate’s back. He used various operations by the Navy SEALs, where one decision could be life or death, to illustrate how important the details can be on the field, and in life.

After he delivered the powerful words, St. Laurent broke the huddle with “U-S-A” and was mobbed by players offering their gratitude for his speech.

“I hope they took some inspiration,” said St. Laurent, who made his first trip to USA Lacrosse headquarters this week. “Reflecting on serving our country and being part of the military family has meant to me, and now be able to do this for a sport I love and represent our country in a small role at this level, it’s emotional and it’s pretty special.”

“We’re trying to create this community that everyone is part of the process and everyone has a say,” Danowski said. “It’s all horizontal leadership, and if somebody can say something that will trigger a positive response, I love that. [St. Laurent] is giving us an insight that most of us don’t have.”

The three-day tryout was a unique experience for St. Laurent, who served as an evaluator alongside Greg Gurenlian, John Galloway and Shawn Nadelen. He’d experienced high-level lacrosse in the PLL, but the U.S. process allowed him to connect with players on a personal level.

“On PLL weekends, we’re competing and trying to win,” he said. “Here, we’re all trying to help them achieve their goal of playing for their country on the biggest stage. I’m a big relationship guy, so it’s been cool to get to know these guys that I see every weekend, but don’t get to speak with.”

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