After Two Postponements, U.S. U21 Team Finally in Ireland to Defend Gold

PHOTO BY ADY KERRY


LIMERICK, Ireland — Nick Myers and his coaching staff sat in the Kilmurry Village Hall on Monday night for the U.S. U21 national team’s first film session of the 2022 World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship.

Beneath the multi-colored banners that hung from the cathedral ceilings — giving off an essence of Hogwarts — Myers and the 23 men selected to fight for a ninth consecutive gold medal got to work planning for an opening matchup with Canada.

“We just need to keep things simple and execute,” Myers told his team as they gazed at the television screen.

The message was consistent with what Myers has preached since the first U21 tryout in 2019, but the venue was entirely different. After having the world championship postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this team made the trip to Limerick, Ireland, moved into the housing at Kilmurry and prepared for another chance at gold.

Among the 23 men that made the voyage to Ireland are many from the early days of the tryout process — when then-high schoolers suited up during a humid camp in Sparks, Md., at USA Lacrosse headquarters. Plenty were high recruits that dreamed of starring for the U.S.

Three years later, each of the 23 players is competing in college, with many playing the lead role for their respective teams. Players like attackman Alex Slusher left for Limerick with a much more well-rounded game than if the world championship had gone as planned in 2020.

“I remember the jump from the first summer to the first camp at Ohio State in the fall,” Slusher said. “Multiply that by 10 when you get to this point. We went through this process having never had a college practice. I was going into [Princeton] ready to play with Michael Sowers in 2019. I’m going to be a senior now.”

Directly behind Myers and the coaching staff hung the University of Limerick Coat of Arms, which featured symmetrical moose and a castle along with a Gaelic phrase.

Eagna Chun Gnimh. Wisdom for Action.

Over two years after the U.S. was scheduled to defend gold, the team arrived in Ireland full of wisdom — both from years of college lacrosse and a handful of U21 camps in the past calendar year. Now, Myers and his team will look to put that knowledge to the test.







“We know we’re a good team, and we’ve been preparing for three years,” midfielder Jake Caputo said. “We have a bunch of unreal dudes that I’ve been able to get to know. We’re all so grateful that we’re here. If we play the way we can, I don’t think we’ll have to hear.”

After a redeye flight to Dublin, the U.S. took a two-hour bus ride over to the University of Limerick, where the gold-medal journey truly begins Wednesday morning. With sleep deprivation a common theme, Myers and his assistant coach and brother, Pat, set out to inject energy and encourage their players to do the same.

The “Bring Your Own Energy” mentality is familiar to this group, but it is needed now more than ever as the U.S. acclimates to life in Ireland. In less than 24 hours, the team will face Canada, which, six years earlier in Coquitlam, British Columbia, nearly won the gold medal itself.

In place of names like Ryan Conrad, Mac O’Keefe and Jared Bernhardt are All-Americans like Pat Kavanagh, Graham Bundy Jr., Kenny Brower, Shane Knobloch and Liam Entenmann.

Myers admitted that there’s little he’s drawing from that experience given the six-year time difference and the contrasting living situations.

“They were different beasts,” Myers said of the two tournament processes. “The men are a little older. Beyond that, we were in a hotel and bussing to and from the field. This is more of an Olympic Village format. The men last night were having a catch with Japan. The fellowship in this event, that’s really what this is all about.”

Although the U.S. came back to beat Canada in miraculous fashion in 2016, the Canadians dominated the U.S. Men’s Sixes team in The World Games last month. In a battle between the two countries for gold medals, Canada has had the last laugh.

“Coming off of Sixes and seeing what happened there, we’re taking more of an underdog mentality into this tournament,” Myers said. “We’re appreciating the talent that is here, not only from our first opponent but every team here.”

As for the players, the team on the other side of the field is of little consequence heading into Wednesday’s opener. Each is simply grateful for the opportunity that seemed like it would never arrive, and focused on improving those in the red, white and blue.

Some are even trying to sharpen their Irish pleasantries.

“The accents are pretty sick, too,” Caputo said. “Lads? Love the lads. I’m going to use that wherever I go.”

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