U21 Men's Training Camp Emphasizes Possession, Defense

PHOTO BY NICK IERADI


SPARKS, Md. — The U.S. men’s U21 team is about two things — truth and love.

Nick Myers’ team understands the importance of praise in the face of criticism. A team that trusts in its parts and respects one another can offer constructive criticism when necessary without fear of any ill will.

On Monday, the opening day of U21 training camp at USA Lacrosse headquarters, Myers singled out faceoff specialist Alec Stathakis during a team huddle.

“Rest of camp, no more,” Myers said. “We’re not going to win a world championship with our faceoff guys picking up one-hand ground balls.”

Later in the sessions, Myers brought up the Denver specialist to praise how hard he’s been working. His teammates applauded his work ethic as he stood while they stayed on one knee.

After truth comes love, after all.

The reason there’s so much emphasis on securing possession during the World Lacrosse U21 Men’s World Championship in Limerick, Ireland, this summer is because there isn’t a shot clock in international competition. Losing a faceoff could mean three minutes without possession. Heck, it could mean four or five minutes. Maybe longer.

Stathakis knows that the pressure is on himself and Jake Naso, the two faceoff men on the roster. But he’s approaching each draw just like the 399 he took this spring at Denver. (He won 56.4 percent of those.)

“Really, I think we just look at it from a team standpoint,” Stathakis said after Tuesday’s morning practice. “It’s our three guys versus their three guys. I trust my wings, and I trust Naso as well. You’re just always fighting for the ball.”

The combination of Naso and Stathakis, no matter how the playing time shakes out in Ireland, stands to give the U.S. a considerable edge. Stathakis has won 59.9 percent of the draws he’s taken over 38 games with Denver, and Naso’s won 59.2 percent over 33 games with Duke.

“That’s one thing they’ve been harping on this week — just caring about the ball,” Stathakis said. “There’s no shot clock. So one little mistake could mean four or five minutes of defense. You really have to take care of the ball.”







BULLDOGS REPRESENT

It’s been a banner year for the Ivy League. Yale, specifically, has enjoyed success beyond the 2022 college season.

Four Bulldogs — Jared Paquette, Jack Monfort, Pat Hackler and Michael Alexander — are gearing up for a run at a gold medal in Ireland.

“All the Yale guys just bring the juice,” Paquette said. “They bring so much energy. We’re diving for end lines and doing the little things. It’s a brand that we hold for Yale lacrosse. We want to represent that and represent the effort we put into every practice.”

Paquette, the goalie who saved 52.3 percent of shots and helped Yale reach the national quarterfinals, isn’t long removed from an uncertain period of his lacrosse life. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that, prior to this spring season, Paquette hadn’t faced in-game shots since his senior year at West Islip (N.Y.) High School.

Factor in a shoulder injury that required rehab, and he admits that his confidence was wavering. Coming into the fall, he only had about a month’s worth of time in the cage. Yale teammates Sean and Kevin Kuttin of nearby Head of the Harbor peppered him to get him ready.

“Goalies especially, it’s a confidence thing,” Paquette said. “If you don’t have confidence, going in with the mindset that I’m going to save every ball shot at me, it’s key. If you don’t play for awhile, you kind of lose that. By the end of the season, with all those games in, I had gotten my confidence back.”

DEFENSE EARNS PRAISE

An offense with household names like Brennan O’Neill and Pat Kavanagh dominates the headlines, but the defense is what stood out during Tuesday’s camp.

In the final exercise of the morning sessions, Myers orchestrated a 6-v-6 half-field drill. It was a best of three competition. There was no need for a third round. The defense had dominated each of the first two.

“They’re super aggressive,” said Stathakis, a member of the winning side. “That’s what you want to see out of a defense. You want the offense to be scared a little bit.”

Backboned by Paquette, the defense closed on shooters and frustrated them on their hands. Changing between man and zone sets, the defense flustered the unit.

“Defense is not a flashy position,” Paquette said. “You’re not usually going to get into the newspaper. Nobody looks at the defense, but it’s such an important part of the game. It’s awesome to see us doing well against these top guys.”

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