The Journey is the Reward: Unselfish U21 Men Geared Up for Ireland

PHOTO BY JOE MAIORANA


Graham Bundy Jr. found space about 12 yards away from the cage, left of center. James Reilly won the faceoff cleanly, raced a few steps and found his teammate, who fired home a righthanded stepdown.

It was Bundy’s fifth goal, part of a six-point performance on March 12 in Georgetown’s 15-10 win over Richmond in the snow. Bundy finished his junior collegiate campaign with 45 goals and 25 assists, a threat as both a facilitator and scorer out of the midfield.

You won’t see Bundy firing many stepdowns this summer when he heads to Limerick, Ireland for the World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship. Save for a transition chance, Bundy will focus on a skill you don’t see from him in college — locking off opposing dodgers as a short-stick defensive middie.

“I’ve been playing a load of defensive midfielder for the U.S. team, and I don’t do that in college at all.” Bundy said. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes. We’re just grateful to be on the team and have that Ireland trip ahead of us.”

The on-again, off-again nature of the U21 world championship has players on the U.S. U21 team anxious to get to Ireland. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the initial date for the tournament — back when it was still classified as a U19 event. The U20 tournament was postponed again. Now a U21 event in which these players have significant college experience, there’s a sense of gratitude and determination.

Bundy could be a guy who scores four goals a game in Ireland. Instead, he’ll try and prevent the other team’s top player from doing just that.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It raises a new sense of competition for me. Normally I’m trying to get past someone. Now I take a bunch of pride on not letting someone past me. It helps having that offensive midfielder background.”

Bundy’s willingness to do what’s needed echoes head coach Nick Myers’ mantra of “humble warrior.” There’s no task too small. This isn’t an all-star team, Myers is quick to point out. It’s a team constructed with a mission. To win a gold medal, his team will have to win 50-50s, chase balls down at the end line and make unselfish plays to set up others for success.

Both Bundy and goalie Liam Entenmann (Notre Dame) are quick to mention Jack Monfort and Pat Hackler, two Yale players not chasing accolades. Instead, they’re the ones doing the dirty work and taking pride in doing so.

“Any great team needs to have a strong identity,” Myers said. “It’s not just the talent. It’s the talent infused with the strong identity. [These players] were picked to complement each other and the blueprint we have for success over in Ireland.”







The blueprint hasn’t changed since Myers first met this group. What has changed, however, is their experience level. Many tried out for the team as high school seniors. The rest were college freshmen. Of the 23 players rostered, seven earned USILA All-American honors this year.

“We’re just much more mature,” said Entenmann, who earned honorable mention recognition. “If the tournament had happened on time, the Class of 2020 would have never played a collegiate game. Now you have guys like Jake Naso, Brennan O’Neill, Jackson Bonitz who are playing significant roles for their teams at the collegiate level.”

Some, like O’Neill (Duke) and Pat Kavanagh (Notre Dame), are superstars. Entenmann got to watch Kavanagh’s success firsthand. As he went, so did the Irish offense.

On the U21 team, there doesn’t need to be one initiator. Or dodger. Myers has instilled a sense of trust in his players that anyone at any moment can be a threat.

“Pat Kavanagh’s a great example,” Entenmann said. “There are some games he has four points and some he has eight points, but as long as we win, he doesn’t care. When you’re surrounded by great players, you don’t feel the need to make all these crazy plays.”

The U.S. players won't chase stats, Entenmann said. Chasing a gold medal is worth more of their attention. Just being in Ireland, though, might be enough after nearly losing the opportunity to represent their country. “The journey is the reward,” he said.

There’s a responsibility, though, to maintain the historic success of the U21 team. It’s the only U.S. program that’s won a gold medal in every tournament it’s competed in. That challenge is not one that Myers takes lightly. He speaks with vigor about the players he first encountered in the summer of 2019.

“It’s the only unblemished national team that we have left,” Myers said. “This national team has been focused. At the end of the day, people are going to judge this team by one outcome.”

That’s why the buy-in is so important to Myers. Humble warriors who play without egos can win a gold medal. Not flashy superstars focused on highlights.

“It’s corny, but it’s like Herb Brooks said in ‘Miracle.’ I’m not trying to find the best team. I’m trying to find the right team,” Entenmann said. “That’s evident in our team. If you look at the 23 guys on our roster, you have some of the best offensive guys in the country. You have some of the best all-around middies. You have some great FOGOs and defensemen. But you don’t get those goals or those faceoff wins without the guys who make the gritty plays.”

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