Team USA Tryouts: Be Yourself

Players go through stretching excercises before the start of the first session of tryouts for the 2018 U.S. men's team.

SPARKS, Md. — Seventy-one of the world’s best lacrosse players stepped on the field Monday night at US Lacrosse, all chasing the same dream — making the 2018 U.S. men’s national team.

For some, it’s their first shot at chasing a childhood dream. For others, it very well could be their last shot at wearing red, white and blue. With stakes that high, the tension could easily permeate the tryouts. But U.S. team head coach John Danowski, who has won three national championships at Duke, set out to cut the tension right from the start.

“How do we get you to be yourself as fast as we can instead of worrying about what we’re thinking about,” Danowski told the players before their first session. “That’s our challenge, that’s the coaching staff’s challenge.”

To help facilitate that mindset, Danowski is running the tryouts more like a set of practices with the team getting ready for a game. On Monday night, they put in some basic offensive and defensive sets, worked on some fundamentals and had a relatively light workout, a bonus for many of the players coming from Saturday night’s Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game in Sacramento, Calif.

One of the players making that trek was Tom Schreiber, but that’s just been a continuation of a wild 2017 for the star midfielder out of Princeton.

Schreiber had a phenomenal rookie season playing indoors with the Toronto Rock, netting 33 goals and 61 assists in his first foray into the box game. He led a Toronto team that finished last in the league in 2016 into the playoffs. Following the NLL season, he rejoined the Ohio Machine in June and has 13 goals and 17 assists in six games, five of them victories.

“It’s been pretty long, but I’m excited to keep it going another few months, hopefully,” Schreiber said.

Schreiber has yet to play on a U.S. team, but he’s far from inexperienced with the international game. He was an assistant coach for the Uganda team that captured the lacrosse world’s attention at the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship in Denver in 2014.

“I thought the world games were an incredible event and then to work with the Ugandan team, it’s kind of a cliché, but it was life changing in a lot of ways,” Schreiber said. “Getting to see those guys come to the U.S. for the first time and experience that culture shock, and then come together as a team and then win, was really the cherry on the top.”

Being there brought being a part of the U.S. team closer to home for him, something that’s been in his blood his entire life. His father, Doug, was a member of the 1974 U.S. team that brought home gold from Australia.

“I think it’s been everyone’s goal forever and I think this is the pinnacle so it’s been on my mind for a long time,” Schreiber said.

Greg Downing helped the U.S. team win a bronze medal at the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship, and the 32-year-old would love another chance to suit up for the USA.

“It would be incredible. I’ve been playing for a long time now and I was really happy just to even get the opportunity to be here and try out with some of the best players in the world,” Downing said.

This is his second time trying out for the U.S. team in the outdoor game and he’s one of the players that appreciates Danowski’s approach.

“I did the process in 2010 when there were about double the number of guys out here,” Downing said. “We scrimmaged the whole time and it was very nerve wracking. You didn’t have the interaction with the coaches like this. I thought we were going to be going right away, so it was nice to kind of get the plane legs out a little bit and kind of take our time with this process and get to know each other a little bit better.”

Getting comfortable with each other is critical for Danowski’s approach to building a team. Yes, individuals are trying out for spots, but the veteran coach, his staff and the selectors are looking for people that can play together.

“We’re looking for guys who are interested in their own greatness,” Danowski said. “We’re also interested in guys who have a sense of humility and they want to see others be great.”

The tryouts will feature morning and evening sessions on Tuesday, concluding with a final morning session on Wednesday.

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