U.S. U21 Team Returns to the Field in Energetic, Dap-Filled Training Session


SPARKS, Md. — The sounds of “Enter Sandman” blared through the speakers at USA Lacrosse Headquarters as the U.S. U21 National Team marched its way out of the tunnel and onto William G. Tierney Field Saturday.

Lance Tillman and Ryan Schriber emerged from the darkness, leading two adjacent lines, many of whom let out a “Woo!” before sprinting onto the turf field. For the first time since Spring Premiere in January of 2020, the U.S. U21 met for training — with two college seasons (one shortened) in between.

What was once the U19 national team is now playing in a U21 discipline in preparation for next year’s world championship in Limerick, Ireland. The group of 24 players, most of which fresh off successful 2021 campaigns, were itching to get back on the field wearing red, white and blue.

“These aren’t high school guys anymore,” Myers said. “When these guys made the team initially, they hadn’t played one minute of college lacrosse. Now, some of these guys have one or two years of experience. The bar is raised a bit, but now we bring it back to here and getting back on the same page with the USA way.”

Coach Nick Myers brought the same energetic attitude to Sparks, Md. as he did 17 months prior at Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas — the site of his team’s last meeting. Myers met with the members of the U21 national team in the locker room for the better part of an hour before taking the field for training.

The conversation started with what had happened since the team had last met and how the mission to win gold remained the same and ended with hugs and daps, a staple of a Nick Myers-led training session.

The daps were back, and each one was a long time coming.

“It was great to give guys hugs and embrace each other,” Myers said. “There hasn’t been enough of that contact in the last year. To be able to coach mask-free and high-five guys and give out chest bumps and dap each other up, that felt really good. We’re grateful to be able to do this again.”

On the field, the U.S. U21 team was split into offensive and defensive groups for positional work, then brought back together for a simulated offensive possession drill, where fireworks started to fly. Pat Kavanagh, Alex Slusher and Cole Kirst scored on the first three shots, a reminder of the wealth of talent on the U.S. offense.

After the glimpse at this team’s potential, Myers wrapped practice and ushered players back to the hotel to prepare to watch Premier Lacrosse League action at Homewood Field on Saturday night.

The outing will give the members of the U.S. U21 team a chance to reconnect while watching former U19 gold medalists like Matt Kavanagh, Mac O’Keefe and Jack Rowlett compete. O’Keefe and Rowlett will speak to the team after Chaos LC and Redwoods LC battle it out on Homewood Field.

“I know how strongly they feel about the experience they had and I want these guys to hear it right from them,” Myers said. “As exciting as the [2016] gold medal game was, it was the process that led up to it. It was the camps. It was experience that you lean on to win a world championship.”

Saturday kicked off an action-packed training weekend that includes three on-field sessions, the PLL games and a ropes course on Sunday. As much as the development on the field is vital, Myers knows his team needs to be reacquainted after a year-and-a-half away.

Ivy Leaguers Back on the Field

Michael Alexander had waited a long time to play lacrosse this competitive —longer than all but four of his U.S. U21 teammates.

Alexander, a sophomore at Yale, stepped foot on the practice field in an official capacity for the first time since an intense final practice of the 2020 season, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also lost the 2021 season due to the pandemic, joining U.S. teammates Pat Hackler, Jack Monfort, Jared Paquette and Alex Slusher (Princeton) as members of the Ivy League who did not compete this season.

Instead, he spent the better part of the last 17 months training on Long Island.

“I was trying to do 1-on-1s as much as possible,” he said about his time away from campus. “I had a couple friends on the Island, so I went to their houses and did it in their backyards or the turf field whenever we could get on. I was just trying to keep a stick in my hands as much as possible.”

When training camp was announced for late June, Alexander knew his drought would be soon over. He woke up Saturday morning nervous, but excited to play at the national team level once again.

“I just wanted to see how I could stack up and compete with these guys,” he said. “It was a good way to see how much I’ve developed.”

Alexander said it took a few drills for him to catch up to the speed of the game once again, but by mid-afternoon, he felt confident in his abilities. With a gold chain shining in the Saturday sunlight, he played like someone excited for high-level lacrosse.

In an offensive possession drill toward the end of practice, Alexander saw a ball heading out of bounds and made sure he was the first to the line. He dove, full-extension, to (hypothetically) win the ball back for his unit.

The play earned him praise in the post-practice huddle from Schriber.

“If I didn’t dive for that ball there, coaches would probably yell at me when they saw the film,” Alexander said. “Selling out for the endline is really fun. I’ll do it every time I have the chance to.”

A New Pat Kavanagh

For most of Saturday’s practice, the U.S. U21 national team did not shoot on a live goalie. Liam Entenmann was the only healthy goalie at the training session, and the U.S. attackmen didn’t get their chance to beat him until late in the afternoon.

As soon as that unit got the all-clear to shoot on Entenmann, Pat Kavanagh made his presence known. Kavanagh, the Notre Dame sensation and Tewaaraton finalist after an electric 2021 season, fired the first live shot of training camp.

After a dodge from x, Kavanagh ripped a shot to the top right corner of the cage, beating his Fighting Irish teammate in the process.

“Scoring on Liam in practice always feels good,” he joked. “I like getting in his head a little bit. He and I battle back and forth during practices, so we have a good little rivalry going. He’s such a good goalie, so when you do get one past him, it’s tough not to celebrate.”

Kavanagh is just over a month removed from the college season, where Notre Dame fell to Maryland in the NCAA quarterfinals. He finished the season with 26 goals and 38 assists, becoming the first sophomore since 2017 to be named a Tewaaraton finalist.

Since the last time the U.S. U21 team met, Kavanagh has seen his confidence grow, making the transition from Chaminade (N.Y.) to Notre Dame a successful one. The game is starting to move slower for one of college lacrosse’s biggest stars.

“The jump from high school to college is definitely tough. It’s really fast, the guys are more athletic and more physical. It’s a tough adjustment. Now that I have two years under my belt, I’m a little calmer in certain situations and not forcing things.”

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