Childhood Teammates Alexander, Brower Help U.S. Shut Down Haudenosaunee


LIMERICK, Ireland — The friendship of Michael Alexander and Kenny Brower has spanned continents, all thanks to lacrosse.

The Long Island products grew up 15 minutes apart — Alexander in West Islip and Brower in Massapequa. They first met after the summer of fourth grade on Team 91, a club program on which they learned the game’s fundamentals and developed into blue chip NCAA prospects.

Brower is now a standout at Duke. Alexander is a disruptive force at Yale. The two close defensemen are teammates, though, on a U.S. U21 men’s defense that has allowed 2.83 goals per game after a 10-2 semifinal win over the Haudenosaunee in the World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship at the University of Limerick.

Key cogs who had built-in chemistry even before the tryout process began in 2019, Alexander and Brower are living a dream. It’s one they only realized later in their lacrosse-playing lives.

“It’s a dream come true, but you never really expect it at that age,” Brower said. “You’re just playing with your buddies, having a great time. This is just the icing on the cake.”

The defense shined Thursday on a night when the offense scored 10 times on 34 shots and Haudenosaunee goalie Jack VanValkenburgh made 12 saves. Brennan O’Neill led the offense for the second straight night, producing three goals and one assist, but a defense that held a 25-13 advantage on the ground and was anchored by Liam Entenmann’s eight saves kept the Haudenosaunee offense uneasy.

Both of the Nationals’ goals came in man-up situations, a testament to the effectiveness of the defense when at full strength. With the offense possessing the ball as much as it has in the tournament, the defense has stayed fresh. Andrew Stimmel’s unit likes to play fast and get out on the offense’s hands, causing havoc and creating more opportunities for the offense to shine.

“It’s more of a mentality than anything,” Stimmel said. “In a lot of ways, it’s a credit to our faceoff unit and the way our offense has played. We haven’t really been worn down in too many games. We’ve stayed pretty fresh, and that’s allowed us to play an aggressive style.”

Between the defensive pressure and the ride in transition, the Haudenosaunee had few opportunities to settle in. Shane Knobloch scored on a low-angle shot on the game’s first possession, then Gregory Elijah-Brown scored for the Nationals. It was another 10 minutes before another goal was scored, when CJ Kirst fed Brennan O’Neill for a lefty score.

The U.S. dropped four goals in the second quarter for a 7-1 halftime lead. Despite taking 14 shots in the third quarter, the U.S. scored just once. Lance Tillman caused a turnover on the ride, then Pat Kavanagh picked the ball off the grass and found O’Neill for a jumping lefty cannon and an 8-1 lead.

Now the U.S. plays a familiar foe in Canada for the gold medal on Saturday at 2 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. local time). The U.S. seeks its ninth straight gold in the event and has beaten Canada in seven of the previous eight title games.

In what’s expected to be a back-and-forth game, the defense will be a focal point. Friends for over a decade, Alexander and Brower will be at the heart of the effort.

“Playing with Mikey for so long, I just know where he’s going to be on that field. He knows if I’m going to overplay that way, he’s going to be right there on the rollback,” Brower said.

Alexander chimed right in next.

“You build that trust. Let’s say Kenny’s on ball, I’m looking away knowing that he’s got his matchup and he’s going to be fine,” Alexander said. “If I find myself in a position where he’s playing the ball and we can create a double team, he knows if I’m sitting there and he turns around, I’ll be there.”

A fitting brotherhood on a team that’s come together since last week to be one win away from gold.


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