light opening session Monday night, Team USA head coach John Danowski and company corralled 71 of the world’s best players like racehorses Tuesday morning at Tierney Field in Sparks, Md., frequently shuffling between full-field and small-sided sets for 130 minutes of whiplash lacrosse.

"> Team USA Tryouts: Dino's Zen Mastery, Walters' Redemption and BJ's Big Voice | USA Lacrosse Magazine


Midfielder Joe Walters, the only collegian on the 2006 U.S. team, enjoys being one of the veterans in the mix. "I took the experience for granted," he says.

Team USA Tryouts: Dino's Zen Mastery, Walters' Redemption and BJ's Big Voice

Temperatures rose to the mid-90s Tuesday in the Baltimore area, and the first round of tryouts for the 2018 U.S. men’s national team followed suit.

Following a light opening session Monday night, Team USA head coach John Danowski and company corralled 71 of the world’s best players like racehorses Tuesday morning at Tierney Field in Sparks, Md., frequently shuffling between full-field and small-sided sets for 130 minutes of whiplash lacrosse.

“The simpler you keep the game, the less you think, the faster you play,” Danowski said before breaking up players for a series of half-field games. “Keep it simple.”

Danowski often defused the tension typically associated with tryouts with his characteristic blend of Zen mastery and colloquial expressions.

“I’m not going to to evaluate. It’s just not my thing. I like to coach. I like to build.  Make the little plays and the lacrosse is going to look great. And you’re going to have a blast. …”

“You’re never doing it by yourself. You’re never alone. You should never feel that it’s on you. …”

“You’ll impress more by just playing together. It’s more fun when you’re doing it together. It’s more empowering. …”

“Offensively, be in the right place. Hold yourself accountable to be in those spots. A clear through is just as good as a goal. …”

Since becoming the U.S. head coach in November 2015, Danowski, a three-time NCAA championship-winning coach at Duke, often has sought the counsel of Blue Devils basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who revitalized USA basketball. Danowski inherited a U.S. team coming off of a disappointing silver medal finish in the 2014 FIL World Championship in Denver.

“When you’re dealing with MLL players, it’s different from college. You have to have some structure, but you can’t have too much structure,” said Joe Walters, the New York Lizards midfielder who made the U.S. team as a collegian in 2006. “This staff, they’ve figured it out. They have that balance.”

U.S. assistants Joe Amplo (Marquette), Tony Resch (Charlotte Hounds) and Seth Tierney (Hofstra) echoed the themes Danowski established Monday night as the players regrouped at the end of Tuesday morning’s session.

“When you’re the most tired, the most stressed and the most uncomfortable, take a deep breath,” Amplo said. “Get yourself in your comfort zone.”

“It’s a hard balance trying out for the USA team and playing the right way,” Tierney said. “We’re noticing that other stuff.”

There will be an evening session Tuesday, followed by the fourth and final session Wednesday morning before selections are announced in the afternoon.

“Be yourself. Work hard. Be smart,” Resch said. “I love the energy and enthusiasm. Get ready to go again, intellectually and physically.”

"It burns me inside that I was a part of that team." — Joe Walters on Team USA's silver medal finish in 2006

Take Nothing for Granted

It has been 12 years since Walters became the surprise baby face of the 2006 U.S. team. He qualified for that team in the summer before his senior season at Maryland.

“I was in shock, utter shock,” Walters said. “It was so hot at UMBC. I woke up from a nap. They posted it online. I didn’t think it was real. I was a young kid, trying out with my idols, like the Powell brothers and all these guys I grew up idolizing. To have my name in the same discussion and make the team with them was unbelievable. It still gives me butterflies.”

The fairytale ending never materialized. Team USA lost to Canada in the 2006 world championship final, its first loss in international competition since 1978.

“It burns inside that I was a part of that team,” Walters said.

Walters made the U.S. training team in 2010, but fell short of the 23-man roster that regained the gold medal in Manchester. He did not try out for the 2014 team, but did suit up for the U.S. indoor team in 2015.

“I think I took the experience for granted,” he said. “Having played in MLL and having gone through the professional lacrosse scene — seeing how if you don’t stay in shape, the game slips away — I took it for granted at the time.”

Walters, 32, had his best MLL season in 2016 with a career-high 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) for the Chesapeake Bayhawks. He signed with New York in the offseason, sat out the NLL season to focus on his field game and has 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in nine games for the Lizards this season — all with an eye on the 2018 U.S. team.

“Now, I’ve been through everything, having lost in 2006, getting cut in 2010, not trying out in 2014. This is something that I really want,” he said. “I really want this opportunity to finally get USA back on track. I want to be a part of that.”

A Sizable Advantage

Good defenders talk, a lot. They bark out coordinates and communicate through complex slide packages. Every time the ball moves, they reverberate.

Multiply that by 26.

Twenty-six defenders — 14 close defensemen, six long-stick midfielders and six short-stick defensive midfielders — are in the running for this U.S. team.

In this cacophony, the loudest of voices belongs to BJ Grill, the 5-foot-5, 150-pound defenseman for the Denver Outlaws. A second-year pro out of Marquette, Grill enjoyed a breakthrough rookie season for the MLL champs in 2016 and has become a fixture in a Denver defense that has allowed a league-low 11.1 goals per game so far in 2017.

Despite being the smallest defenseman, Grill does have one sizable advantage: He knows Amplo’s defense inside and out.

“I don’t necessarily mean to be the loudest. I just want people to hear me because I feel like I can help direct a lot when we’re in those positions, because I’m very comfortable in what we’re doing” said Grill, also the director of lacrosse operations at Marquette. “I have a way of impacting other than just being on the ball. I can be an off-ball guy here. That’s what USA needs. It’s not just a bunch of number ones. It’s about making a team.”

Along with Grill, short-stick defensive midfielder Jacob Richard (New York Lizards) and long-stick midfielder Liam Byrnes (Florida Launch) were core players in Marquette’s rise from startup to NCAA tournament contender in just four years. The Golden Eagles have upset Denver en route to Big East championships in each of the last two seasons. The trio graduated in 2016. All three are in the U.S. player pool.

Grill, a Bridgewater, N.J., native, struggled to get recruited. He said he sent emails to nearly 50 schools as a high school senior to no avail. Grill figured he would forego lacrosse and follow a family legacy at Pittsburgh, before Amplo offered him a spot at Marquette based solely on the recommendation of his high school coach.

“It was March 10, after my first scrimmage of my high school senior year,” Grill said. “[Amplo] said, ‘Hey, if you ever want to come to Marquette, I have a spot for you.’”

Grill became the first player to commit to the new program.

“Just right there, I said, ‘I’m in,’” he said. “I didn’t visit the school. It ended up being the best spontaneous decision of my life.”


Coach John Danowski examines play as midfielders (from left) Jeremy Sieverts, Tom Schreiber, Drew Snider, Connor Buczek and Sergio Salcido await their turn during the first round of 2018 U.S. men's team tryouts Monday at US Lacrosse in Sparks, Md.

News and Notes

Midfielder Brent Adams (Denver Outlaws) and faceoff specialist Tom Kelly (Denver Outlaws) are sidelined from U.S. tryouts with injuries. Adams, who has not appeared in a game for the Outlaws this season, was on crutches with a walking boot on his left leg. Kelly separated his shoulder in Saturday’s MLL All-Star Game. … Most players wore their MLL helmets. Some chose to don their college lids. Only defenseman Garrett Epple (Atlanta Blaze) sported a high school helmet, marked by the Cardinals logo of Calvert Hall (Md.). …  In addition to the coaching staff, assistant general manager Ben DeLuca (Delaware) and selectors Shawn Nadelen (Towson), Charley Toomey (Loyola) and Paul Cantabene (Stevenson) were on the field working with the players during drills. Also spotted Tuesday: National Lacrosse Hall of Famers Vinnie Sombrotto and Jesse Hubbard. ... The tryout roster includes the 59 original invitees and 12 additional players that were announced after the college season.

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