U.S. Men's Training Camp Set Stage for October's Fall Classic


John Danowski assumed his normal position in front of 52 U.S. national team hopefuls, all wearing either white or blue pinnies while taking a knee.

The head coach of the 2023 men’s national team had been through this point in the selection process before, but this experience had striking differences compared to when he last evaluated some of the best players on the planet.

The Premier Lacrosse League, founded after the U.S. won gold in Israel, has pushed the visibility of the sport to new levels. The season length, with the championship game on Sept. 18, has kept players in shape throughout the year, but it left many with residual injuries and ailments. An invigorating college game has brought about a new and exciting group of young talent, vying to be part of the next generation of the U.S. national team.

On Friday night at USA Lacrosse headquarters, those 52 men listened intently as Danowski set the tone for training camp.

“You’re all talented enough to be part of this team,” Danowski told them. “We have to find the right 23 guys. We’re looking for guys with high lacrosse IQ, and we want to build chemistry.”

For the better part of three days, Danowski and his staff got an extensive look at a group of U.S. men’s talent from which they will choose the players who will fight for gold in San Diego next summer. It’s the first of three events (Fall Classic and a trip to Orlando in December) for the 52-man training roster, which features a combination of U.S. veterans, PLL pros hungry for an opportunity and college players looking to crack the roster.

Assistants Joe Amplo and Seth Tierney guided players through a series of drills that emphasized offensive and defensive concepts, hoping to continue to develop the chemistry in both units that helped the U.S. down Canada in the gold medal game.

Then Danowski and his staff watched as the roster split into Blue and White teams and battled through one 80-minute scrimmage Saturday and another 60-minute scrimmage Sunday morning.

After Sunday’s scrimmage, Danowski thanked the 52 men for competing despite the turnaround from the PLL season and commitment to other obligations. The smile across his face told players more than he could say. The opportunity to build another world championship team is something Danowski doesn’t take for granted.

“We can’t wait to get back. We have so much fun with them,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys that are from different areas and have been competing against each other in high school and college, the professional ranks, but they come together and do something where they’re not getting paid, but because they love the game.”

Among the players trying out for the U.S. national team were six players who took home the PLL title on Sept. 18 with Waterdogs LC. Liam Byrnes, Ryan Conrad, Jack Hannah, Connor Kelly, Kieran McArdle and Michael Sowers had four days to rest, recover and celebrate the victory before traveling to USA Lacrosse to chase another dream.

“We have a lot of dogs out there, so that’s always exciting to see,” Conrad said. “Body in motion stays in motion, so I’m going to keep it going until I shut off maybe in January.”

For the crop of PLL champions, the weekend served as a chance to compete while they’re still in top form. The Waterdogs combined for six goals in Saturday’s scrimmage and followed with a combined seven goals Sunday. McArdle chipped in a hat trick Saturday and Kelly ripped home three goals Sunday.

Conrad, coming out of the offensive midfield for most of the training camp, showcased the combination of dodging and timely shooting that helped fuel the Waterdogs’ run to a title. The former U.S. U19 and Sixes star scored three times over two scrimmages.

After two recovery days on Monday and Tuesday, Conrad got right back to work, attempting to make his third U.S. team. He’s just a few months removed from representing the U.S. at The World Games in Birmingham, Ala., where he earned a silver medal.

Playing the fast-paced Sixes discipline, mixed with a smaller field in the PLL, gave players like Conrad plenty of reps but forced a period of adaptation back to the international field length and rules.

“The biggest thing is the space,” Conrad said. “The fields are so much smaller, especially Sixes. We even did these tryouts in the middle of Sixes and the PLL. Having all of that mixed together, you really need to dial it back to whatever you’re playing that week. Everyone has to be a [multi-discipline] player.”

Conrad joined fellow Sixes players Byrnes, Zach Goodrich, Colin Heacock, Jack Kelly, Tom Schreiber and Brad Smith at training camp this weekend. Each is looking to avenge the gold-medal loss to Canada in Birmingham, this time at the senior level.

For Kelly, Schreiber and Conrad, it’s a chance to win another gold — something that few among the 52 have accomplished.

“I saw a lot of shots this summer,” Kelly said. “It’s probably the most lacrosse I’ve played in my life, with training camps and tryouts, Sixes, PLL and then the tournament for Sixes. It gets you ready for a long season. I feel comfortable because I know I’ve taken so many shots. I’ve seen so many different scenarios.”

Kelly’s preparation for this U.S. tryout process involved both physical and mental challenges. He spent much of the past four years recovering from ACL surgery in an attempt to make a return to lacrosse. At times the sport became secondary, as he struggled just to walk during his rehabilitation.

Now years removed from the torn ACL he suffered at the world championship in Israel, Kelly is enjoying the moment. As a veteran of the national team process, he’s eager to make connections and appreciate the experience of fighting for a roster spot.

“[Israel] was the best experience of my life and one of the worst experiences of my life, so those swings of emotion were hard to deal with,” he said. “After my injury, I don’t remember much of the training camps and all of that. The older guys on the team, there was just a sense of appreciation that they had, while I was 21 or 22 trying out just focused on making the team. I’m hoping to enjoy it a little more and bring some positive energy.”

The U.S. training roster will carry that positivity to Fall Classic from Oct. 14-16 and the IMLCA Winter Summit in Orlando from Dec. 9-11.


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