Chemistry and Connectivity: U.S. U19 Team Progresses at Spring Premiere

PHOTO BY DARREN ABATE


Back in November, Nick Myers and his U.S. U19 training team met in Columbus, Ohio in another step of the tryout process.

The location was familiar to Myers — on the campus for which he’s served as men’s lacrosse coach the past 11 seasons — but for the players, it was far from it. A group of 32 players convened for just the third time and Myers made it his mission to begin developing the chemistry that won the U.S. the 2016 gold medal.

Six weeks later, a 26-man training team headed to San Antonio, Texas for another training weekend alongside the Senior national team. 

The location? Certainly not familiar to Myers and his program. It’s the first time the U.S. national team program has had boots on the ground in the Lone Star State. No player on the roster hails from the state of Texas.

Yet, when this version of the U.S. U19 training team took the field at Spring Premiere, it all seemed so familiar.

U.S. U19 teammates walked off the bus and into drills on a Friday night practice as Incarnate Word. Myers had his team energized from start to finish. That same energy and spirit bled into Saturday against Team Premiere — an assortment of top local talent with college commitments ranging from Virginia to Denver — which translate to a 17-3 win.

The team that landed in San Antonio showed off the chemistry, cohesiveness and connectivity developed through two games in Columbus last year. It’s another step closer to the level that Myers expects out of his team.

“When the question was asked, what’s the difference between connectivity and talent, we felt when we arrived in Columbus and we were a talented team but we weren’t a well-connected team,” Myers said. “What we experienced today is a team that’s building connections and really self-aware. We know how hard this is, the challenge that lies ahead and I think they’re embracing it.”

The process played out on and off the field. In a pre-game breakfast, Myers had every member of the program, including team parents, engage in seven minutes of one-on-one, interrupted question-and-answer sessions. He wanted his players and coaches to be “curious” and learn more about those with which they were working.

Those actions aren’t the least bit surprising for Myers, who helped mold the 2016 team and has visions of doing the same with this crop of 26. He knows this team is not yet a final product capable of winning gold in Limerick, Ireland this July, but it’s gone from unfamiliar to familiar in just a few weeks.

“We said we were going to pick up where we left off,” Myers said of the attitude approaching Spring Premiere. “The end of that Hill game [in Columbus] is where we’re picking up this game. ”When we go out on the field, we know that the only team beating the USA is us.”

The progress was on display throughout the game Saturday, as faceoff wins turned to high-quality offensive chances. Brennan O’Neill took advantage of those opportunities, scoring four times and adding an assist. The Mitchell brothers, Connor and Grant, combined for five goals from the midfield.







When it wasn’t scoring goals, the U.S. U19 team was riding with success. Team Premiere seldom held possession on their offensive end — a testament to the intensity brought forth by Team USA.

Another sign of a cohesive team forming — cheering on ground ball battles.

“Before, in Columbus, we weren’t as meshed as one,” Grant Mitchell said. “Today, the biggest thing that stood out to me was when a guy would get a big ground ball, you’d hear a bunch of guys on the sideline screaming his name.”

With one game remaining at Spring Premiere against a Japanese team that nearly upset the U.S. Senior team, Myers is happy with where his team is. It is growing more connected. Players are learning the nuances of the international game.

With only a couple more opportunities for this team to come together, the progress shown between November and now is encouraging.

O’Neill Gaining Confidence

Lacrosse fans have been hearing of Brennan O’Neill for years — and he’s just a senior in high school. His highlights at St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) have gone viral on more than one occasion. He led his St. Anthony’s team to the CHSAA title with an amazing seven-goal effort last May.

The Duke commit is one of the most heralded recruits in recent years.

But the U19 national team experience is an entirely different beast. O’Neill joined a training team full of promising college recruits — many that have started their first semester in college lacrosse. As one of the youngest members of the training team, O’Neill has had to find his role on this U.S. offense.

Saturday, he made it apparent he’s starting to round into form for Team USA. He scored four goals against Team Premiere from a multitude of angles — diving, coming from x and a rocket from the top of the offensive zone.

The highlight of the day was his diving effort from the right side of the crease that gave the U.S. an 8-1 lead in the third quarter. He was simply taking what was given to him.

“Our team got good spacing and there wasn’t a slide, so I just went in and dropped it in,” he said. “If there’s no one in there and there’s good spacing, you can always go in and if there’s no double, that’s good for me.”

O’Neill has the raw talent to wow a crowd like the one that showed up to Incarnate Word on Saturday. With a complete effort from the U.S. national team, he was able to showcase it.

“It’s a matter of parts and pace and space and working together, and then ultimately someone is going to fortunate enough to be on the end of the rainbow,” Myers said. “Brennan knows he’s going to be a guy on the end of the rainbow a lot because it’s his job.”

It will soon be his job at Duke, once O’Neill graduates this spring. In attendance in San Antonio was his future coach, John Danowski, who led the Senior team shortly after O’Neill was finished.

This U19 national team process could help elevate his game to another level before he arrives in Durham.

Mitchell Brothers' Influence

It’s been a few years since Grant and Connor Mitchell butted heads, and elbows, while playing basketball in the backyard of their home in Buford, Ga.

“Sometimes it got heated,” joked Grant Mitchell. “We’d have to be split up for a second.”

Eventually, their one-on-ones gravitated to the lacrosse field, where both brothers became standouts playing youth lacrosse in the Atlanta suburbs. Both twins excelled with their athleticism and strength.

By 2017, the Mitchell family decided to move to Maryland to allow Grant and Connor the opportunity to compete at Calvert Hall (Md.). There, both emerged as top-of-the-line college recruits for a team that won the MIAA (A) title in consecutive seasons. 

Both middies, Grant and Connor Mitchell were always better working together. After years of playing on the same line, they’re as cohesive a duo that Myers has at his disposal on this U.S. team.

The twins don’t always top the scoring charts as two-way midfielders, but they capitalized on chances to combine for five goals (Grant with 3 and Connor with 2). They also contributed on the ride, which was extremely effective Saturday.

“They’re going to get tough ground balls and play great defense,” Myers said. “A guy like Brennan is going to be a product of guys like Grant and Connor drawing doubles and moving the defense. The buy-in that we’re getting from guys for their roles has been great.”

Just six months separate this team from the world championships in Ireland. The Mitchell brothers would love to be there together playing with the U.S. — but they’re bringing the entire family along.

“If I’m lucky enough to go, it would be awesome both for my brother and for my teammates, as long as my family will be there to see it,” Connor Mitchell said.

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