With Resch at Helm, Underdog U.S. Steady at the Top
Tony Resch isn't trying to get ahead of himself, but every once in a while he imagines what it would be like to lead the United States men's team to its first gold medal in the 2015 FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championship.
"As a competitor, that pops in your head," said the U.S. head coach. "That's human nature. To compete at that level, you think, 'Gee, wouldn't that be amazing if we could do something no U.S. team has done so far?' Dreaming about it or imagining it won't do anything."
The U.S. has never even reached the title game. They have finished third in each of the last three world championships. The 10-day tournament gets underway Friday in Onondaga Nation, N.Y., and Buffalo, N.Y.
"I have helped out and was on a U.S. field team [in 1990], and coming in as the underdog is definitely a different approach for me," Resch said. "I think our guys are embracing that approach. People probably aren't expecting a lot of us. Hopefully we'll get out there and show we belong with those top teams."
Winning has followed Resch at every stop, including a couple of notable wins when his teams were considered an underdog. He won four NLL titles as head coach of the Philadelphia Wings, the last in 2001 when the Wings had 11 U.S.-born players and upset a heavily Canadian Toronto Rock team for the Champions Cup. A year later, the U.S. won the inaugural Heritage Cup over favored Canada. Resch was the coach for that American team, still the only U.S. team to win an international box lacrosse championship over Canada. Resch was inducted to the NLL Hall of Fame in 2008.
"Everything starts from the top," said Johnny Mouradian, a Canadian who was general manager for five NLL championships. "They're good at the top, there's no doubt about that."
Resch also won two MLL championships with the Philadelphia Barrage and three as an assistant coach with the Chesapeake Bayhawks. He has assistants Adam Mueller, who was an assistant on the Wings team that won the NLL in 2001, and Chris Schiller, who was on the 2011 U.S. indoor team and won an NLL title in 2007 with Rochester. The staff has had just two camp weekends to mold the U.S. team.
"We do feel like our real growth will be at the games when we have a full contingent," Resch said. "We'll watch ourselves as much as other teams."
The U.S. has a tough opener with the Iroquois after opening ceremonies Friday night at War Memorial Arena in Syracuse. A sold-out crowd of 5,000 is expected. It's a test that will give the U.S. a starting point.
"That first game will be a great barometer for Step 1," Resch said. "Regardless of how it goes, we can't get too high or too low. We have to turn around and play a game two days after that. That's a big part of it. To play that many physically demanding games, we've made it an all hands on deck approach. I think we're ready to go, as ready as we can be."
Resch has been praised universally for being able to get the most out of his teams. In Resch, US Lacrosse selected the coach highest on everyone's list.
"His style is very conducive to coaching pro athletes and high level performers," Mouradian said. "There's a time some coaches try to over-coach, and at that level there's a fine line between letting them play and guiding them through, and he's got that down pat with his style."
Resch prefers to be hands-on and have control as a coach, and he has had to adjust to the part-time aspect of the U.S. job. He's had to trust the players to do much of the prep work on the side.
"It's been fun to be back and working with the coaches we have and the players we have," he said. "We're excited to get up there and see how we do. ... We have some guys that have some experience, but not like the Canadians and Iroquois. They grow up playing. We can't make up for that experience. We hope to be more athletic and have more team speed overall, and we hope we can use that."
Just making the gold medal game would be an historic accomplishment for the U.S. To get there, they will have to rise above their underdog status.
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