Attitude of Gratitude: U.S. U21 Team Soaking Up Chance to Compete Again

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER


SPARKS, Md. — Though the World Lacrosse Men's U21 World Championship is more than a year off, before the final drill this morning on the turf at Tierney Field, head coach Nick Myers asked his players to envision themselves in a situation they’ll be faced with in Limerick, Ireland. 

“End of the tournament you’re worn out, you’re tired,” Myers said before the “fourth quarter” of practice that consisted of live 6-on-6. “Every pass matters.”  

That mentality and foresight was present through every drill over the past three days. Missed passes yesterday during a full-field clearing drill resulted in 15 pushups by everyone. “Let’s get chesty,” Myers said as he dropped down and did a couple along with the team. But more than a way to build proper habits, the reinforcement was designed with a look to the future. 

“There’s a sense of urgency in everything we do all the time,” Myers said. “The tempo of the international game is going to be a little bit different than the shot clock era that they are all playing now. A good shot at the end of a shot clock in college lacrosse is maybe one that we don’t want to settle on here.” 

The emphasis on the details was apparent from assistant coach Pat Myers telling the offense to “hit singles” or players being asked to give a single pushup after they faded from the goal or committed other infractions. There was also an unmistakable passion despite the sweltering temps. 

“Energy white,” Pat Myers repeated twice during the morning’s 2 v 1 build up drill. 

“I don’t like it, I love it,” Nick Myers told Quentin Matsui after he sold out for a ground ball in the same drill. 

“What are they feeding No. 32?” Jack Monfort said, referring to Jacob Synder who knocked Brennan O’Neill to the turf. O’Neill, Pat Kavanagh and Lance Tillman also unleashed a pinpoint passing display.

Perhaps the only thing that eclipsed the play on the field was a sense of gratitude amongst the coaching staff and players alike. The warm-up concluded with 15 seconds of daps. “Get in there, get in there,” Pat Myers said, encouraging the offense to celebrate together after Kavanagh scored in the 6-on-6 section of practice. 

Such scenes were unthinkable a couple of months ago. 

“Take a moment of reflection on your way home today and think about where you were a year ago today to where you are right now,” Pat Myers said, as each coach addressed the team at the end of camp. “I’m inspired to be out here with you guys and grateful for the effort that you put forth.” 

The challenge for the group will be to pick up where they left off at future training camps and build on what they worked towards over the course of the past three days. Accomplishing the mission goes beyond X’s and O’s and, as Pat Myers said, and starts with connections. Jared Bernhardt, Michael Sowers and Bryan Costabile, all members of the 2016 gold medal team, addressed the U21 team last night via Zoom. But as the U21 team brought it in for a final huddle this morning, Nick Myers kept the message simple.  

“Make sure you guys take good care of your families and each other this summer. Let’s stay in touch. Well done this weekend.”  

“USA,” everyone then said together. 







KIRST USING HIS VOICE

Cole Kirst turned to Jackson Bonitz in the huddle after the final rep of training camp concluded. 
 
“Where was it?” Kirst asked about the location of his shot that Bonitz blocked a couple minutes earlier. “I actually want to know.”
 
A journalism major at Lehigh whose dream job is to be a SportsCenter host, Kirst was one of the most vocal players on the field throughout the three-day training camp at Tierney Field. He also possesses a curious streak. 
 
“Let’s bring it. Let’s bring it. Let’s bring it,” Kirst said in the offensive huddle before the fourth quarter of practice, a live 6-on-6 drill.

“What up, Grimes,” he called out every time before Brendan Grimes delivered him a pass in shooting warm ups. 

“Even though I might be the loudest, we’ve all been trying to do that,” Kirst said when asked about continuous chatter after noting it was something he developed more at Lehigh and stemmed also from an enhanced comfort level with his U21 teammates. “We’ve all been focused on trying to help each other get better.” 

“He plays with a ton of energy,” Nick Myers said of Kirst. “He’s an emotional guy and levels some guys up with his enthusiasm.”

The only player with college experience at the Spring Premiere in San Antonio, Texas, back in January of 2020, Kirst will have played four years of college lacrosse when the U21 team heads to the World Lacrosse Men's U21 World Championship in August of 2022. 

After scoring a combined 11 goals in 23 games over the course of his first two years at Lehigh, Kirst, a natural attackman, scored 26 goals in 2021, including a four-goal performance at assistant coach Pat Myers’ Lafayette Leopards.

Kirst’s final goal of the season came in an NCAA Tournament first-round loss to Rutgers. It was also against his brother, Colin, who after four years at Lehigh headed to New Brunswick with his final year of eligibility. Connor Kirst made a similar transition from Villanova to play for the Scarlet Knights and in doing so honored their father’s legacy.

After taking a short break to reset the college season, Cole Kirst started practicing again with Connor, now a midfielder for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Whipsnakes in their backyard in New Jersey.

At training camp, Cole sported a pair of white pads on his arms just beneath his shoulders that looked homemade and were reminiscent of the gear worn by box players. Although he now stands 6-foot-3, growing up playing on Leading Edge, Kirst was always one of the smallest players so his mom, Michelle, decked him out in “all the pads.” The practice of wearing upper arm pads, each attached by pieces of gauze tape that looked like they had seen better days, stuck.

“I need to get a new pair,” Kirst said. “I’m sorry if they smell a little.” 

COLE HERBERT A DUAL THREAT

What was supposed to be the final possession of the USA U21 training camp was over almost as soon as it started. But instead of scoring a goal, Cole Herbert made a bead on a pass from the top of the restraining box. He then completed a leaping, one-handed interception. 

“Drop it right there,” Nick Myers said after Herbert cleared the ball from the box. “We’re not ending on that.” The possession restarted from the endline. 

Herbert’s play might sound foreign to those who better know him as an intimidating dodging threat from the midfield who won the C. Markland Kelly Award his junior at Calvert Hall and helped the Cardinals to three-consecutive MIAA titles. He finished his high school career with 124 points, yet the USA Team coaching staff was equally enamored by his ground ball play and physicality between the lines. 

“Cole is in my opinion as good a short stick defender as he is an offensive player,” Nick Myers said. “So having him spend as much time defensively as he does offensively is important.” 

The past three days in Sparks (Md.) was a microcosm on the increasing emphasis on “positionless lacrosse,” which is also a necessity stemming from the 23-man roster the team will have in Ireland. “With 23 guys and a 10 day tournament, you’re going to have to have some flexibility,” Myers said. “You have to be prepared for the next man up and a lot of times that means you have to wear different hats.” 

Or different pinnies. Most of the midfielders switched between wearing white (offense) and blue (defense) between drills or sometimes during them. 

“If you started on deense yesterday you start on offense today,” Myers clarified before the 6-on-6. Graham Bundy Jr., initially thought he was on defense, but made a quick wardrobe change and stuck a 10-yard step down to tie the score at 3-3. 

Herbert’s interception came next. A dynamic wide receiver in high school who received offers from Air Force and Rutgers to play football in college, Herbert, who’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, has focused on lacrosse at North Carolina. He tallied eight points this spring on the Tar Heels’ final four team.
 
“It’s being a guy that when the time calls to make a play you’re ready to do it,” Myers said when asked to define what constituted a “dude,” a term of honor. “Whether it’s on a wing, whether it’s on a clear, whether it’s hot, whether there’s adversity, sometimes you just have to be a guy that understands I’m wearing the red, white and blue for a reason and I got to rely on my ability to make a big time play.”

Herbert fits that description. 

“He’s been really impressive in my opinion,” Myers said. “He’s a guy that kind of jumps out at you. He reminds me a little bit of Dox Aitken from the last team that we had. A guy that can play pretty much anywhere on the field that we need him to.” 

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