U.S. Men's National Team Features Variety Experience Levels, Redemption Stories

PHOTO BY NICK IERADI

Rob Pannell is back on the U.S. roster after helping the team win gold in 2018.


As the 23-man U.S. men’s national team roster emerged out of a ballroom in the Omni Hotel in Champions Gate, Fla., the faces told the story of a group of men from various points in their lacrosse careers united in one of the greatest moments of their lives.

The hallway was filled with the celebratory congratulations on an honor bestowed upon few in the lacrosse community — a member of the U.S. men’s World Championship roster.

After a discussion-filled night between John Danowski and his coaching staff in the same ballroom, the group (which includes assistants Joe Amplo, Seth Tierney and Charlie Toomey) came to a decision. Early in the morning, they delivered the news to the entire U.S. training team, addressing both those who made the team and those who did not.

The roster announcement meeting ran 30 minutes in full, at which point the U.S. roster returned to the ballroom to celebrate with the coaching staff and get right to work.

“The experience that we were fortunate enough to be able to have in 2018 and those guys that were part of the game that we called the Forever Game — to me, that was the Forever Experience,” Amplo said. “It’s all those relationships and the time you get to spend with each other. You guys are about to get involved in that, too.”

There were six players selected for the 2023 U.S. team that played in Netanya, Israel, in 2018, celebrating a last-second gold medal victory over Canada. Names like Michael Ehrhardt, Tom Schreiber and Rob Pannell returned to the U.S. tryout process with a good chance to make another run — but not every gold medalist followed the same path.

Jack Kelly, who tore his ACL in Netanya on July 14, 2018, against Australia, not only missed the rest of the world championship but didn’t suit up for a lacrosse game for over 1,000 days. His rehab was a roller coaster of ups and downs that had him focused on being able to live a normal life, much less play lacrosse again.

After almost three years of working on his recovery, Kelly returned to the field with Redwoods LC in the summer of 2021. Once he got back into playing shape, the goal of playing with the U.S. quickly came back into view.

He competed in The World Games this summer with the U.S. Sixes team and felt confident in a run for the senior team. The first player to walk out of the room upon seeing his name among the 23, Kelly was rightfully counting his blessings.

“This was my ultimate goal,” Kelly said. “For me, there was a point where I thought I was never going to play lacrosse again. There was a point where I didn’t want to play lacrosse again. … As things started to slowly turn around, I was like, ‘I can definitely do this.’ My goal was to get back to the 2023 team, because it was taken away from me after the injury. Now, the work is not done.”







​Jesse Bernhardt, Kelly’s teammate in 2018, was another returner who fought his way onto the 23-man roster. At 32, Bernhardt could have passed on another cycle with the national team. However, he wasn’t ready for his U.S. career to conclude, becoming the voice of a unit that features more than a few newcomers.

The 2023 process will be different without his brother, Jake, in the fold. But Jesse Bernhardt, Maryland’s defensive coordinator, has plenty of experience from which to draw.

“It’s been almost 10 years in this process with the U.S. team,” Bernhardt said. “I still have the passion for the game. There haven’t been too many guys that have had the opportunity to try out three times, but the challenge was one I wanted. Thinking about that 2018 process and the ability to make those connections and have that feeling at the end of it, it’s just hard to duplicate. I was willing to push the chips in the middle to see if I could feel that way again.”

Kelly, Bernhardt and the rest of the U.S. veterans expressed plenty of excitement about working with the next crop of national team members — some just in the early stages of their careers and others taking advantage of what could be a final shot. These stories will be told over the ensuing months.

Kieran McArdle, a professional veteran and member of the U.S. indoor team in 2019, makes the 23-man roster at 30 years old. He’s coming off the top professional season of his career, dropping 19 goals and 23 assists en route to a PLL championship with Waterdogs LC.

Charlie Bertrand, who starred at Division II Merrimack before making the transition to Division I and playing at Virginia, has seen his stock rise steadily since joining Redwoods LC and the NLL’s Rochester Knighthawks. A bruising dodger, Bertrand became a trusted member of the U.S. offense during tryouts, and it made him difficult to leave off the roster.

Then there’s the story of former No. 1 recruit Brennan O’Neill, who just two years ago made his collegiate debut at Duke. Since that spring, he’s become one of the most powerful forces in college lacrosse. A few months ago, O’Neill helped the U.S. U21 take home a gold medal in Limerick, Ireland.

John Danowski has seen firsthand the potential of O’Neill on a talented offense. Now, he’ll get the chance to suit up with some of the best in the world — something he’s still letting sink in.

“It’s very calming because these guys are all so good and they make me better,” O’Neill said. “Learning from them will help me develop, and it’s awesome to play with guys that have so much experience. Two years ago, this definitely wasn’t in my mind. I can’t believe it.”

A roster with a diverse array of talent and experience is headed into this summer looking to defend as world champions. The journey to San Diego started on Tuesday.

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