PHOTO BY MASON PERRICONE

Co-captain Graham Bundy Jr. leads the U.S. U21 men's national team onto the practice field Monday at the University of Limerick in Ireland.

Meet the 23 Members of the U.S. Under-21 Men's National Team


At long last, the U.S. under-21 men’s national team has arrived in Ireland.

The team practiced Saturday at USA Lacrosse, traveled Sunday out of Philadelphia and practiced Monday in Limerick.

Last week, we asked head coach Nick Myers to say something about each of the 23 players who will compete in the World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship. Most of them had yet to play beyond the high school level when they qualified for the team back in the summer of 2019. They’ve weathered a global pandemic, ushered in the era of name, image and likeness in the NCAA and emerged as the future faces of the game.

What remains unchanged, Myers said, are the core values for which they were selected in the first place.

“We talk about character and competence,” Myers said. “You don’t build a team just on talent. That’s the Under Armour All-America Game. When you build a national team and a brotherhood, competence can only take you so far. You see it in sports all the time. It’s not always the most talented team that’s the last team standing.”

“I hope when the dust settles that’s what people are talking about with this particular group — that it was a fun group to be around, making everybody proud back home and doing things right there,” he added. “We’re over there representing the greatest country in the world, sharing the game and competing in a way people can be proud of.”

GOALIE

Liam Entenmann
Jared Paquette

 

A two-time All-American already at Notre Dame, Liam Entenmann has started every game since he stepped onto campus in South Bend. He made double-digit saves in 10 straight games this year and finished north of 65 percent on six occasions, highlighted by a 22-save (66.7-percent) gem against Syracuse and a 14-save (73.7 percent) performance against North Carolina.

“There’s just a little more aura when he’s in that goal in terms of voice, energy and enthusiasm,” Myers said.

Jared Paquette is among a contingent of Yale players the U.S. coaching staff watched closely this season after the Ivy League’s two-year hiatus. Paquette beat out 2018 NCAA championship-winning goalie Jack Starr for the starting nod in New Haven and led the Bulldogs to a 12-5 mark with a 52.3 save percentage in his first full season.

“He’s a competitor,” Myers said. “A little quieter, not as outspoken. But he has a seriousness when he gets in the goal. He’s a ball stopper.”

Both goalies are excellent in the clearing game, a must in Myers’ system and in the international game, where a failed clear could turn into another four- to five-minute defensive possession.

DEFENSE

Michael Alexander
Jackson Bonitz
Kenny Brower
Quentin Matsui
Ryan Schriber
Jacob Snyder

 

Myers wanted six poles who could play anywhere. That’s how the U.S. landed on these six, though Michael Alexander and Ryan Schriber are the ones most likely to see time at long-stick midfield, with the remaining four defenseman rotating down low.

Paquette’s teammate at both West Islip (N.Y.) and Yale, Alexander started all 17 games for a Bulldogs defense that took its lumps this year (ranked 54th in Division I with 13.24 goals allowed per game). He’s versatile but best as a right-handed cover guy.

Schriber has played both close defense and long-stick midfield for “Team Up North,” which is code for Michigan in the parlance of Myers and others from rival Ohio State. He can capitalize in transition, evidenced by his five goals and two assists this year.


“We talk about character and competence. You don’t build a team just on talent. When you build a national team and a brotherhood, competence can only take you so far.”


Jackson Bonitz made a first impression that stuck with Myers: He defended Brennan O’Neill better than anyone during tryouts in the summer of 2019. He’s only gained more respect from his U.S. coaches and teammates during his two years at the Naval Academy.

“Bonny at our last camp, he jumped off a sub to come to camp,” Myers said. “He’s Mr. USA. He bleeds it. The guys love him. You’ll see him carrying the flag out at some point no doubt.”

Bonitz finished his sophomore season in the 99th percentile with a defensive EGA (expected goals added) of 8.61, according to Lacrosse Reference.

Kenny Brower was added to the U.S. mix after he emerged as the top cover defenseman at Duke in his first full season in 2021. He was named the Blue Devils’ captain this year and drew the opponent’s top attackman in every game — which in the ACC meant guarding the likes of Chris Gray, Pat Kavanagh and Connor Shellenberger. The fact that he’s left-handed is a bonus.

Myers calls Alexander, Bonitz and Brower the team’s “thumpers.” Quentin Matsui and Jacob Snyder project as off-ball complements, positionally sound defenseman who are fluent in the terminology and slide packages. Matsui is steady and dependable and has experience in an NCAA championship-winning locker room at Virginia. Snyder plays for Myers at Ohio State. He’s a three-year starter there.

SSDM

Jake Caputo
Patrick Hackler
Jack Monfort
Danny Parker

 

The “dogs” or “sled dogs,” as Myers calls them, durable short-stick defensive midfielders prove especially valuable with international rules that could see them isolated numerous times during lengthy defensive possessions absent a shot clock.

When World Lacrosse shortened quarters from 20 to 15 minutes running time, Myers elected to take a fourth d-middie instead of a 10th offensive player.

Jake Caputo qualified for the U.S. team as someone seen in the mold of Dox Aitken or Ryan Conrad, members of the gold medal-winning 2016 U19 team who could play offense or defense, take the wing on faceoffs and win ground balls between the restraining lines.

Duke has deployed Caputo almost exclusively as a defensive midfielder, but that versatility will prove useful. His father, longtime Duke assistant Ron Caputo, is an assistant manager on the U.S. team staff.

Patrick Hackler was in the mix for team captain. “He works his butt off. He sets the edge,” Myers said. “He’s tough. He’s fierce.”

A two-time all-league high school football quarterback, Hackler threw a state-record 52 touchdown passes as a senior at Skaneateles (N.Y.).

Hackler and Jack Monfort are both two-way midfielders at Yale and either could seemingly step into Brian Tevlin’s role as a party-starter for the Bulldogs. Hackler had 10 goals and three assists while Monfort contributed four goals and seven assists in 2022.

Monfort might be the one who stays on more frequently with the U.S., which wants to keep Hackler fresh for defense.

Danny Parker earned a spot on the U21 team after the coaching staff watched him compete for Virginia against the U.S. senior team in the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic last year. Myers loves Parker’s wing play on faceoffs.

FACEOFF

Jake Naso
Alec Stathakis

 

Thunder and lightning.

That’s how Myers characterized his two faceoff specialists, who have combined to take more than 1,500 draws over the last two seasons at the NCAA level.

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, Alec Stathakis was a linebacker for the football team at Culver Academy (Ind.). He’s a career 60-percent faceoff guy at Denver, including a 63.5-percent mark in 2021 when he split time at the stripe with TD Ierlan.

The switch to standing-neutral grip has only added to his repertoire of moves and counters — when he does not bulldoze the opposition with brute strength, that is.

“I was as impressed with him as anybody at our last camp with the shape he came in,” Myers said.

Stathakis and Jake Naso both can go SNG or knee down, the latter approach still legal at the international level.

“Jake has got lightning-quick hands,” Myers said. “He’s a little smaller, but he’s taken like 10,000 draws for Duke in two years. They’re great complements for each other.”

Naso (241-for-429, 56.2 percent) ranked fourth among faceoff specialists with a cumulative EGA of 66.93 this year, according to Lacrosse Reference.








MIDFIELD

Graham Bundy Jr.
CJ Kirst
Cole Kirst
Brendan Grimes
Shane Knobloch
Lance Tillman

 

Myers has embraced the “positionless” trend popularized by basketball coach Brad Stevens and adapted by NCAA lacrosse coaches — including his brother, Pat, the head coach at Lafayette and offensive coordinator for the U.S. U21 team.

The line between midfielders and attackmen has blurred. Instead, you’ve got dodgers, shooters and glue guys in an offense designed to exploit one-on-one matchups and maximize spacing.

CJ Kirst (Cornell), Cole Kirst (Lehigh/Syracuse) and Lance Tillman (North Carolina) all play attack at the Division I level. Brendan Grimes (Johns Hopkins) started the first five games of his college career there, too, before switching to midfield.

When it comes down it, however, they’re all dodgers — ball carriers with an arsenal of moves that they can deploy anywhere on the field.

Graham Bundy Jr. (Georgetown), on the other hand, fits the more traditional definition of a midfielder. He’s a two-time first-team All-American and co-captain of the U.S. U21 team alongside Cole Kirst.

Bundy led the Hoyas this year with 70 points (45 goals, 25 assists) and he’s not a liability if he gets caught on defense. Myers recalled Bundy sweeping the locker room floor at USA Lacrosse during tryouts.

Cole Kirst is the elder statesman of the team. The Lehigh graduate is transferring to Syracuse for his fifth year of eligibility. “He’s great below the goal,” Myers said, intimating he could be a go-to option on inverts. “Very physical with his dodge. Very two-handed.”

CJ Kirst, Cole’s brother, burst onto the scene at Cornell this year. After sitting out the 2021 campaign with the rest of the Ivy League, the sophomore ranked second on the Big Red in goals (49), assists (22) and points (71).

According to Lacrosse Reference, CJ Kirst finished fourth nationally (one spot ahead of Tewaaraton Award winner Logan Wisnauskas) with a cumulative offensive EGA of 65.51 — meaning his play alone was good for an extra four-plus goals per game.

Myers was on the other side when CJ Kirst scored seven goals in Cornell’s 15-8 NCAA tournament win over Ohio State.

“I got a first-hand look at CJ in the playoffs. He was so impressive,” Myers said. “He has this incredible spirit, like his brother. Like the family for that matter. He loves the locker room, loves to compete. He’s got a real feel for how to score and make those around him better. He plays fast.”




PHOTO BY MASON PERRICONE

U.S. U21 team attackman Brennan O'Neill greets a member of the Israeli team on the practice field at the University of Limerick in Ireland.


Shane Knobloch latched onto the U.S. team after a similar breakthrough campaign as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year at Rutgers in 2021.  He only added to his credentials with a 32-goal, 16-assist sophomore campaign.

“He has all the different release points. He reminds me of a young Tom Schreiber,” Myers said. “It’s a tough comparison to make, but his ability to shoot from different angles, pass from different angles and the body feel — he’s just different.”

Knobloch was injured in Rutgers’ NCAA semifinal loss to Cornell. But U.S. team doctors cleared him to play in Ireland.

Grimes has morphed from stretch shooter to ball carrier in his time at Hopkins and with the U.S. team. Again, versatility matters. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he’s a big lefty that can create mismatches on that side of the field especially when paired with the 6-foot-2, 220-pound O’Neill at attack.

Grimes’ shooting ability could prove especially useful if Canada and other teams decide to drop into a zone defense against the U.S.

Tillman earned the nickname “Dance Tillman” at North Carolina for his shiftiness. “He’s got a pop. He’s quick. He’s a water bug — a Michael Sowers-type, break-you-down guy,” Myers said. “We feel like we can use him in a lot of spaces.”

ATTACK

Pat Kavanagh
Brennan O’Neill
Alex Slusher

 

Pat Kavanagh and Brennan O’Neill on the same line? That’s almost criminal. They’re two of the most exciting players in college lacrosse right now.

A Tewaraton Award finalist as a sophomore at Notre Dame in 2021, Kavanagh broke his own school record with 39 assists in 2022. He’s had consecutive 64-point seasons and a few spectacular performances — like a pair of 10-point outings against Syracuse and the infamous “Shoe Game” against Duke in which his game-winner was waived because he scored after losing his right cleat on the dodge. He shares the clutch gene so often displayed by his older brother, former Notre Dame great and current Redwoods attackman Matt Kavanagh.

O’Neill has met every expectation as the nation’s No. 1 recruit billed as a generational talent ever since he emerged nationally as an eighth-grader. A two-time All-American at Duke, he led the Blue Devils with 45 goals and 21 assists this year and was the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2021.

Kavanagh and O’Neill both missed the U.S. training camp last November. They reunited in June and Myers said the attack line needed time to gel.

“You don’t need a note from me on Brennan. His body of work speaks for itself. Same with Kav,” Myers said. “They’re adapting to each other and to the international game, where there’s no shot clock. It can go to the other extreme where we’re too unselfish. It’s finding that balance inside the rules of the game.”

Alex Slusher was the top scorer (44 goals) on a Princeton team that went to the final four for the first time since 2004.

“Slush is the glue guy that can organize us,” Myers said. “He doesn’t need the ball. He’s happy to work off the ball. He can dodge. He can pick. He has a great voice . Slush is an awesome complement to Kav and O’Neill.”

The U.S. U21 men’s team, selected before the pandemic as a U19 contingent, will finally take the field Aug. 10 for the World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship opener in Limerick, Ireland.

Follow the journey on social media @USAMLax (Instagram and Twitter) and here at USALaxMagazine.com.


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