U.S. men's lacrosse: young but mature

Loaded with college stars, team hopes to come of age at world tournament

July 05, 2002|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

It's almost laughable to former U.S. national lacrosse team stalwart Zach Colburn that the rap on this year's American squad is that it is far too inexperienced.

After all, one look at the team - which is in Perth, Australia, this week, looking to bring home Team USA's sixth straight International Lacrosse Federation world championship - shows four members of the 2001 NCAA champions and three from this year's winning team.

Then there's the NCAA's reigning Player of the Year (Syracuse's Michael Powell), Attackman of the Year (Georgetown's Steve Dusseau), Midfielder of the Year (Duke's Kevin Cassese) and Defender of the Year (Syracuse's John Glatzel) on the roster.

"When you think college-age players, you maybe question their maturity, but then you look at where these guys are coming from," said Colburn, who played on the 1990, 1994 and 1998 U.S. teams, all of which captured the gold medal.

"People don't necessarily bear in mind that some of these guys, despite being in their 20s, have been to two final fours, won three high school state championships and an under-19 world championship. How much more experience do you need?"

Not a lot, the Americans hope.

Major League Lacrosse's ban on its veterans - those not drafted in the first two collegiate drafts - from playing on any other team during the season while under contract has left the Americans with their youngest team ever.

The U.S. team will play tomorrow in Australia at 7 p.m. - 7 a.m. Eastern time - against the Iroquois Nationals.

Nine players who are either still in college or graduated in May highlight a roster usually comprising older alumni and club-team veterans.

The average age of the American players, coached by longtime Army head man Jack Emmer and managed by U.S. Lacrosse, is 24, and that figure is inflated by 40-year-old Tim Schurr. Only one player, attackman Darren Lowe, 31, was on the 1998 team.

"Our youth doesn't concern me now that we've gotten together," Emmer said.

The team was selected after tryouts last June but has spent little time together since.

Despite that, reviews from a series of exhibitions the team has played in the past couple of months have been favorable.

Syracuse's speedy Powell, 19, who won college lacrosse's top honor - the Tewaaraton Trophy - after leading the Orangemen to the national title this season, forms a formidable attack line with the Lowe brothers, Darren and Kevin.

Johns Hopkins senior crease man Bobby Benson (McDonogh) will also get a lot of playing time.

Powell's former Syracuse teammate, Glatzel, has reunited with former Boys' Latin teammate Ryan Mollett on a U.S. defense that will also include Maryland senior Michael Howley.

Then there is Princeton junior Ryan Boyle, a Gilman alumnus who will run on attack and in the midfield, and maybe even get some time alongside Doug Shanahan. The former Hofstra two-sport star will play in the worlds before reporting to the New York Jets' training camp.

Indeed, lacrosse experts, accustomed to seeing such names as Mark Millon, Brian Voelker and Sal LoCascio - all former world teammates of Colburn's - play for the red, white and blue, see this year's group as potentially being overmatched by Canada.

Some even think the host Australians could unseat a U.S. team that has won seven of the eight world championships.

Canada fell one goal shy of the United States in the 1998 world championships in Baltimore, and returns 10 players from that team, including Paul Gait and John Grant Jr. and a host of others primarily known for their indoor lacrosse exploits.

"To be honest, if it was an indoor game, we'd probably lose 30-2," said Kevin Lowe.

But it is not, and team members point to several things that are in their favor that might be getting overlooked.

First, international rules force substitutions on the fly and encourage an overall faster game. One of the major factors in picking the U.S. team, according to Emmer, was speed and athleticism.

The U.S. team also figures to be in better shape than many of the squads, thanks to college fitness programs.

And it is impossible to forget the responsibility American players feel in representing their country after Sept. 11.

"This was a chance to represent our country, so this is certainly a big deal to all of us," said Kevin Lowe. "If I didn't think we could win this, then I wouldn't be going down there."

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