September/October edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

The kibbutz.

Just saying the word brings a smile to Tom Schreiber’s face, his bristly blonde beard widening at the cheeks as he describes the 83-year-old communal settlement the U.S. men’s national team called home for two weeks in Israel.

"> The Miracle on the Mediterranean (and the Making of a Gold Medalist) | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY ODED KARNI

FIL World Championship hero Tom Schreiber flashes his gold medal after Team USA’s 9-8 victory over Canada in the championship game July 21 in Netanya, Israel.

The Miracle on the Mediterranean (and the Making of a Gold Medalist)


This article appears in the September/October edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.

The kibbutz.

Just saying the word brings a smile to Tom Schreiber’s face, his bristly blonde beard widening at the cheeks as he describes the 83-year-old communal settlement the U.S. men’s national team called home for two weeks in Israel.

While most of the record 46 nations competing in the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship in July resided in the host city of Netanya, Team USA stayed in Shefayim, a kibbutz located 20 minutes south on Highway 2, the often-congested coastal road connecting Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Here, players and coaches bonded over kosher meals, team meetings held under a tree in a courtyard and conversations with curious onlookers who knew nothing of a sport that’s still very much in its infancy in this part of the world.

Founded in 1935 as an agricultural commune operated by Jewish immigrants from Poland, the kibbutz today is a privatized center of tourism and commerce — including a shopping complex, a hotel and conference center, a 24-acre water park and a sports compound where the Israeli national soccer team trains — with a population of more than 1,200 people. But the utopian principles upon which it originated provided perhaps the perfect setting for 23 of the world’s most accomplished lacrosse professionals to put aside their egos and personal brands in pursuit of a collective goal.

“It’s just being on a team again,” says Schreiber, the two-time MLL MVP with the Ohio Machine and 2017 NLL Rookie of the Year with the Toronto Rock. “Your first year out of college, your rookie year in the MLL, it’s great. And then after that, you’re lost a little bit, because it’s the first time you’re not on a team since you were 6 years old. You’re not meeting and practicing every week. When you have that feeling, when you have the kibbutz and everybody around you, you savor it.”

Schreiber, shirtless after removing his sweat-soaked jersey and performance tee, says this in the locker room over the dance music provided by his roommate Marcus Holman, ever the life of the party.

“Oh hey, it’s Media Tom,” Matt Danowski heckles from across the room.

Schreiber’s stoicism presents a sharp contrast to his teammates’ ebullience. Earlier this year, when he appeared on the covers of both US Lacrosse and Inside Lacrosse magazines calling him the best player in the world, he felt uncomfortable drawing such attention to himself.

He’ll have to settle for most clutch, despite his current state of disbelief. “I still feel like they could take the goal away,” he says moments after his last-second goal gave the U.S. the world championship with a 9-8 win over Canada.


“I still feel like they could take the goal away.”


O

n the morning of July 21st, Shefayim is as still as stone. It’s the ninth day in the month of Av, according to the Hebrew calendar, an annual day of fasting and mourning. Most shops are closed. A large temporary wall divides the dining hall. The pregame meal consists of grilled chicken and rice, with assorted fruits and vegetables — an odd spread for 7 a.m. In three hours, the U.S. and Canada will renew what’s fast emerging as the greatest rivalry in the sport at Netanya Stadium. Most of America will be asleep, save for the most diehard of lacrosse fans who set their alarms to watch ESPN’s live broadcast at 3 a.m. Eastern time.

A dry heat permeates the air. Not a drop of rain has fallen in all of the two weeks spent here. The birds don’t seem to mind, their chirps echoing throughout the quad, where the shade of several large oak trees provide refuge from the hot sun. Underneath one of the trees, 29 plastic blue lawn chairs form a perfect circle.

The circle.

It’s where U.S. head coach John Danowski prompted the players to open up to each other, to be OK with being vulnerable. He would offer icebreakers like, “Tell me something about somebody on the team that you didn’t know before you got here.” If their answers were obvious or inauthentic, he would press further. “Nah, I need more than that.”

It’s where Joel White stood up in front of his teammates before their round-robin game against Australia — the first of four games in four days — and got downright giddy at the prospect of playing through that gauntlet of a schedule.

“How lucky are we?” White said. “Every day is game day.”

It’s where the coaches developed the vocabulary that would carry their chalk talks throughout their time in Israel.

When they needed a term for calmness in the clearing game, which unraveled badly late in Team USA’s loss to the MLL All-Stars to conclude training camp in June, defensive coordinator Joe Amplo looked around at the other coaches and laughingly suggested, “Breezy,” the same word they used to describe a nude male sunbather they saw strolling the beach with an umbrella. It stuck, as did offensive coordinator Seth Tierney’s characterization of a self-effacing 10-man offensive unit as the “one-tenth crew” and the concept of ascending with “seatback and tray tables in upright position” until the final day of the tournament.

“The best coaching in these two weeks has happened at a place called a kibbutz,” Tierney says, “in a blue chair, in a circle, in a shaded area.”

On this morning, the circle is solemn.

Echoing what Duke and Team USA basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said when he addressed them on speakerphone the previous day, John Danowski assures the players, “You are US Lacrosse,” and encourages them to “play with great joy” and “be yourself.”

And then one-by-one, each player expresses his “I will” affirmation.

“I will support my teammates. ”

“I will have fun.”

“I will focus.”

“I will protect the middle of the field.”

“I will enjoy the moment.”

“I will sell out for every ground ball.”

“I will do my job.”

“I will fight.”

Assistant coach Tony Resch also harkens back on Coach K’s message, taking some exception to the words, “Win one game and walk together for the rest of your life.” Win or lose, Resch says, this experience — these two weeks on the kibbutz, their tour of the Old City in Jerusalem, the MLL All-Star Game, the two-a-days in Boston, the team selection in Bradenton, the sum of seven training weekends dating back to 2016 — will unite them forever.

Win or lose.








F

our years ago, of course, the U.S. lost.

Badly.

Playing in front of nearly 12,000 fans on home soil in Denver, the U.S. lacked composure and then looked listless as Canada methodically constructed a six-goal cushion en route to an 8-5 win in the gold medal game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

Among the eight veterans returning from that 2014 team — Jesse Bernhardt, Ned Crotty, Tucker Durkin, Greg Gurenlian, Kyle Hartzell, Marcus Holman, Rob Pannell and Paul Rabil — a prevailing criticism of the selection process was that it lingered for too long. The final 23-man roster wasn’t announced until 11 days before the world championship commenced.

John Danowski wasted no such time. Hired by US Lacrosse in November 2015, he saw that there would be seven weekends over the course of two-and-a-half years during which he could assemble a staff, evaluate players and foster a sustainable team culture.

A month later, he tabbed Amplo and Tierney — a couple of “turnpike guys” who worked on his staff at Hofstra before he left for Duke in 2006 — as his coordinators. “I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it to be comfortable,” Danowski says. “I wanted guys where you could say anything to anybody at any time.” 

The trio shared not only the connection to Hempstead Turnpike, but also an affinity for teaching and teambuilding. They’re also funny as hell together. “Every meal, every car ride, you laugh,” says Tony Resch, the third assistant on the staff. “Seth should probably take his show on the road.”

Amplo, now the head coach at Marquette, was a non-recruited walk-on as a player for Danowski at Hofstra.

“I basically begged him to let my parents pay tuition,” Amplo says.

Tierney, who took over for Danowski at Hofstra, wasn’t even in the coaching profession when Danowski gave him his first shot. He was the manager of The Crease, a lacrosse-themed bar and restaurant in Merrick, N.Y., moonlighting as a professional indoor player for the New York Saints.

“There were practices at 6 o’clock in the morning, and the bar closed at 4,” Tierney says. “You slept in your car for 45 minutes, and you went through practice. Then you went to the diner. That was my first introduction to coaching.”

Amplo and Tierney jumped at the opportunity to reunite with Danowski, who in turn welcomed them.

“The turnpike concept was born out of that we weren’t the bluebloods of lacrosse, but we’ll scrap with you,” Danowski says. “You don’t need wooden lockers to compete in a lacrosse game. You don’t need chartered airplane trips. You just need a bunch of guys who love each other and love playing the game.”

With the coaching and support staff in place — assistant general manager Ben DeLuca was another appointee with Danowski ties, volunteering for him at Duke — the next step was to identify quickly those players who embodied the same values.

Fifteen of the 23 players that would eventually represent the U.S. in Israel dressed for the first exhibition of the Danowski era, the Team USA Spring Premiere in January 2016 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The U.S. throttled then-defending NCAA champion Denver 22-6. The other eight players came on board within the next year.

The training roster grew to 49 players last July after three days of tryouts at US Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md. After three more events, the coaching staff finalized the 23-man roster Jan. 6 following the last Blue-White game at IMG Academy.

Looking at a whiteboard with dates scribbled in dry-erase marker, Rabil, an all-world midfielder for the U.S. in 2010 and 2014, noticed it would be more than six months before the team was scheduled to reconvene for training camp in Boston. He suggested a voluntary players-only weekend in March.

Eighteen guys showed up on a Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y. They paid their own way and crashed on friends’ couches. Some flew into New York from as far away as Seattle (Snider) and Utah (Holman). Others who are full-time college coaches, like co-captains John Galloway and Matt Danowski, left their teams after games to join the group.

J.C. Glick, a former Army Ranger and leadership consultant who has worked with MLL’s Charlotte Hounds and Denver Outlaws, organized teambuilding exercises. He asked them to draw pictures of objects that symbolize how they perceive themselves, how they think they are perceived by others and how they wanted others to perceive them.

The rawness of the exercise led to conversations about their upbringing, how their fathers treated them, their relationships and what they sought out of this experience. Egos were challenged openly.

Hartzell, the team’s only player from a Division III college (Salisbury) and an avid hunter, drew a hard hat, a bow and arrow and a family. He’s engaged to be married, and the task got him talking about the kind of husband and father he would like to be.

“Nothing was off the table,” Hartzell says. “Guys called each other out. It was eye-opening. It was also really good for us.”

Afterward, they let off steam in a pickup game at Hofstra. They played West Genny, the continuous and free-flowing 3-on-2 drill created by legendary coach Mike Messere of West Genesee (N.Y.) High School, for about an hour and a half. The losing team picked up the dinner tab that night.

Hartzell likened the setting to a schoolyard. Three months later, Schreiber would invoke the same comparison when asked to describe one of the most memorable goals in lacrosse history.




PHOTO BY ODED KARNI

U.S. coach John Danowski gets doused in ice water by assistant Seth Tierney after a 9-8 victory over Canada in the gold medal game July 21 at Netanya Stadium.


R

ound 1 between the U.S. and Canada at the Wingate Institute delivered exactly what you would have expected — sterling highlights, edge-of-your-seat suspense, a lot of late-game intrigue and a little bit of bad blood. Shades of 2014 showed, as the Canadians expertly mixed methodical offensive possessions with quick transition strikes, precise passes into tight windows and spectacular one-on-one athleticism. The defending world champs scored three unanswered goals to take a 10-9 lead with 5:10 remaining.

Moreover, the U.S. went man-down on the play. But Galloway, dueling with reigning world championship MVP Dillon Ward, answered with a spectacular sprawling save on Curtis Dickson on the doorstep.

Danowski, playing midfield alongside Rabil and Schreiber, sent a low-to-high heater past Ward to tie the game at 10. Then it was Rabil’s turn. He ditched Canadian defender Tyson Bell with a roll dodge and scored on an overhand blast for the go-ahead goal with 1:10 left. Gurenlian won the ensuing faceoff and shot the ball out of the back of his stick. The shot went wide and out of bounds.

The U.S. had backup to retain possession, but Canada called for a stick check after noticing throughout the game that Gurenlian had trouble getting the ball out of the back of his stick after winning faceoffs. When an official turned Gurenlian’s stick upside down, the ball did not come out, resulting in a three-minute non-releasable penalty.

The U.S. defense, under siege all game, thwarted an extra-man opportunity for Canada in the final minute on a perfectly timed rotation by Joe Fletcher, who speared the ball out of Mark Matthews’ stick as the Canadian attackman attempted to swim past him. The ball sailed behind the goal, where Galloway gathered it off the ground and flipped it to midfielder Kevin Unterstein, who heaved it to the other end of the field as time expired on an 11-10 U.S. victory.

The intensity of the rivalry made an impression on John Danowski.

“As soon as we got off the bus, you could feel the heat,” he said.

That was only the round robin. Six days later, the enmity escalated.


 

PHOTO BY ODED KARNI

U.S. goalie John Galloway corrals the ball after a save on Canada’s Curtis Dickson during a man-down possession late in the round-robin game.


A

t 9:58 a.m., John Danowski addresses the team in the locker room before its gold medal game at Netanya Stadium. For the sixth straight time in the quadrennial world championship, it has come down to the U.S. and Canada. Reserve goalie Jack Kelly, sidelined by a knee injury, will carry the flag.

“There is nothing that I’m going to say to inspire you,” Danowski tells the players. “What you have right in here, look around at each other, that’s all it takes — looking into the eyes of the guys next to you.”

The U.S. jumps out to a 2-0 lead. But Canada — with its symphony of isolation moves, backdoor cuts, pinpoint feeds and pretty finishes — scores four unanswered goals to close out the first quarter. It’s 6-4 Canada at halftime.

“That scouting report, learn it and burn it,” Tierney urges during the break. “We gotta play lacrosse now.”

The U.S. scores the only two goals of the third quarter to draw even at 6, buckling down with a big defensive stand at the buzzer. 

As the teams enter the field for the final 20 minutes, you can cut the tension with a knife, both showing signs of the fatigue brought on by seven games in 10 days. It looks like Canada might repeat when Mark Cockerton twists his stick to score from the right side to put the Canadians ahead 8-7 with 5:17 remaining and Zach Currier checks the ball out of Trevor Baptiste’s stick on the ensuing faceoff.

Then all hell breaks loose.

A controversial offside call on Canada with four minutes left, Ryan Brown’s equalizer, a clutch faceoff win by Baptiste, a U.S. timeout with 2:55 left, the mad scrum for a loose ball that traveled from end line to restraining line before Schreiber draws a loose-ball foul, three great looks on goal (by Rabil, Jordan Wolf and Schreiber) that barely miss, and then Schreiber’s forever moment — it all happens seemingly in the blink of an eye.

“Chaos, pretty much,” Canada coach Randy Mearns says. “How come we’re not already at zero?”

Examine the final moments more closely, however, and you’ll see the qualities John Danowski sought to instill from the get-go.

The unselfishness of Matt Danowski plucking himself from play, gassed after the loose ball chase.

The veteran wherewithal of Crotty, who came in for Danowski and set the screen that gave Schreiber the sliver of space he needed on the final play. (“Thank God you mentioned that back pick,” says Danowski, Crotty’s brother-in-law. “If someone doesn’t recognize that back pick, he’s going to lose his mind.”)

The resilience of Pannell to keep probing and find Schreiber on the spot with a sidearm feed.

But no one’s perfect, not even Schreiber. 

Throughout training camp, John Danowski stressed to the players that when cutting to the left pipe, they better have the stick in their left hand “unless you have a Canadian passport.”

Schreiber certainly won’t qualify for one now. 

PHOTOS BY ODED KARNI

Left: Team USA’s Jake Bernhardt hits the deck in pursuit of the ball after jarring it loose from Canada’s Mark Matthews. Right: U.S. attackman Rob Pannell (3) grabs midfielder Tom Schreiber (13) after finding him for the game-winning goal with one second remaining.

W

hen the FIL names Schreiber the Most Outstanding Midfielder, he slips the gold medal off his neck before receiving his award, as if they could take that away too.

And when 17 of the U.S. players jump into the stands to sing a buoyant, if pitchy version of the national anthem in front of their families, Schreiber, whose father, Doug, played for the gold medal-winning U.S. team in 1974, is nowhere to be found. “Just getting my equipment,” he explains. “I was a little late.”

Some might say Schreiber was a little late when he delivered that dagger with precisely one second left, according to the official timekeeper on the field. The discrepancies between that, what showed on the Netanya Stadium scoreboard and what ESPN portrayed on its broadcast — not to mention the phantom offside call that cost Canada a possession with four minutes remaining and the Canadians ahead 8-7 — marred an otherwise riveting FIL World Championship final.

ESPN called it an “international incident” on the air. F-bombs rained from the Canadian sideline. It drew comparisons to the fiasco of the 1972 Olympic men’s basketball final.

In four days, the FIL would come out with a statement validating the time left on the clock when Schreiber’s shot crossed the goal line and acknowledging that the offside call “could have been made in error.”

Schreiber describes the last-second play as “schoolyard,” an unscripted moment when he and Rob Pannell locked eyes as he slipped through a hoard of players in front of the goal. Pannell says he saw two seconds on the scoreboard. Various other accounts will claim otherwise.

None of it matters now.

“A team had to make a play, and we were the ones to make it,” Matt Danowski says. “The game was won. It wasn’t given to us.”

The celebration takes Team USA from Netanya Stadium to nearby Shamrock Irish Pub and then Tel Aviv in the evening. In between, they convene one last time at the kibbutz, joined by family and friends around the perimeter of the blue chairs under the shade of the oak tree. A few days later, they’d return to their MLL teams, rivals in a heated playoff chase.

Galloway, for one, will find it difficult to separate the bonds of the circle.

“There’s 23 guys trained not to like each other for most of the year,” he says. “Somehow in 18 days, you found a way to love every one of the guys in the huddle.”

They’ll walk together forever.