June 9, 2009

Team USA Tryouts, Day Two: Duke Reunion

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Alex Smith leaves Anthony Kelly clamping turf en route to a 15-for-19 performance in the first session of U.S. team tryouts Tuesday.

© Bryce Vickmark

* Day One: Saving Face
* Video: Joe Walters
* Photo Gallery

SMITHFIELD, R.I. -- Eighty-four grown men lounged in a Bryant University auditorium Sunday with their hats, sweats, iPods -- all the swag you might associate with the professional lacrosse culture.

But when Team USA coach Mike Pressler entered the room, Long Island Lizards attackman Matt Danowski perked up as he did six years ago when he was just a nervous freshman at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He knew the drill.

"I actually wised up, and I took my hat off when I saw him in the room," Danowski said. "I figured it was coming."

Pressler told the players, ranging from age 19 (Shamel Bratton) to age 36 (Blake Miller), to remove their caps and fill in the front rows of the auditorium. The tone was set. Egos were checked at the door -- a change of pace from player-friendly Major League Lacrosse -- and Pressler delivered a fiery speech to commence tryouts for the 2010 U.S. men's national team.

For Danowski and six other former or current Blue Devils vying to play again for Pressler -- Kevin Cassese, Ned Crotty, Tony McDevitt, Parker McKee, Nick O'Hara and Matt Zash -- it was like déjà vu.

"He was back," said Crotty, the slippery midfielder and attackman who played for Pressler for two months as a freshman in 2006 before false criminal allegations against three players forced the coach into exile. "I haven't heard that in four years. It would be awesome to be able to play for Coach."

Said Danowski: "Our career with Coach Pressler got cut short. I think he has something to prove to people, and we want to help him, to let everyone know we got his back and we want to play for him."

Pressler's ability to command a room and a team were among the reasons he was brought on to lead Team USA in the wake of its disappointing loss to Canada in the 2006 world championships. He emphasized the importance of players accepting roles and team unity, even as they compete against one another to make the 40-man roster the U.S. will carry into its fall exhibition schedule.

"I've trained the last six weeks for a chance to play for him again," said McDevitt, a defenseman trying out despite being on injured reserve for the Long Island Lizards. "I love Coach Dino (current Duke head coach John Danowski), but I signed to play for Coach Pressler. That's what's keeping me going right now."

Cagey veterans

Extenuating circumstances prevented goalies Mickey Jarboe and Brian Dougherty from trying out for U.S. teams in 2002 and 2006, but both are among an impressive crop of veterans vying for a place between the pipes.

Jarboe, the 2008 MLL Goalie of the Year with the now-defunct Los Angeles Riptide, missed tryouts for the previous two teams due to military commitments with the U.S. Navy. After making 16 saves combined in Monday's sessions, he was steady again Tuesday morning, corralling six saves and allowing just three goals in 30 rain-soaked minutes.

"To get just a couple years under my belt in the [MLL] really helped me out," Jarboe said. "Lacrosse is lacrosse. You just come out here and play like you know how to play."

Dougherty, 35, was a member of the gold medal-winning 1998 U.S. men's team, but MLL commitments and a pre-tryout injury precluded him from playing on the 2002 and 2006 teams, respectively.

(The selection process has since been altered to include a clause allowing players who are invited to tryouts, but cannot participate due to injury, to remain eligible for consideration.)

"This is just as competitive and intense as an MLL game," said Dougherty, now with the Long Island Lizards, "and you're playing five of them in three days, basically."

Tuesday morning's best statistical performance belonged to Toronto Nationals goalie Rob Scherr, who made eight saves and allowed just three goals.

"Everything's a challenge, especially going against all these guys, but I think all the goalies are playing really well," Scherr said. "I think all the goalies out here are really encouraging everybody else. Somebody makes a save, we're all cheering for him. We just want to see the best for each other."

Yeatman heeds advice, has breakout game

Will Yeatman, who at times looked lost Monday during the tryouts' first sessions, broke out Tuesday morning for three goals and an assist. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound attackman and rising senior at Maryland might have benefited from advice from a former Terp, defenseman Chris Passavia.

Passavia, now of the Boston Cannons, encouraged Yeatman to use more of his large frame and implement a quicker release when he dodges and shoots from goal line extended.

"You're playing like you're 5-foot-10," Passavia told the visibly frustrated Yeatman.

Yeatman was much more assertive Tuesday, using his upper body to gain separation from defenders and bouncing quick shots off the turf and into the cage. Four of his five shots were on goal, and he connected three times.

Faceoff follow-up

Alex Smith and Chris Eck remain frontrunners in the heated race among faceoff specialists.

Smith bounced back from a rough Monday night session to win 15 of 19 faceoffs Tuesday morning in the most dominant performance among the first three trials. Eck won 9 of 14 in the second game.

Despite their size advantage, Anthony Kelly (4-for-17) and Peter Vlahakis (4-for-12) struggled for the second straight day.

Eck is something of a dark horse. He was not among the original 84 invitees, but was called in as a replacement for Andy Corno.

Tierney talk

A popular subject among both players and coaches circles Tuesday was Princeton (and former Team USA) men's lacrosse coach Bill Tierney's announcement Monday that he was leaving the team he led to six NCAA championships for Denver -- a largely unproven commodity that resides far from the sport's traditional geographic base.

In a letter to alumni, including several players here at Team USA tryouts, Tierney cited a desire to relocate, the opportunity to be closer to family (his son Trevor will be his new assistant coach) and the sport's westward expansion as reasons for his departure.

"There are many layers to that decision," said former Princeton standout and current Boston Cannons attackman Ryan Boyle.

The biggest question looming: will Princeton reward associate head coach Dave Metzbower's loyalty to the program (20 seasons) or try to lure a big-name coach  (such as Pressler, currently the head coach at Bryant) from another institution in its national search for Tierney's replacement?

Tierney reportedly lobbied hard for Metzbower prior to his departure.

"I have all the confidence in the world that Princeton will choose the right leadership to follow in my path," Tierney said in a statement Monday.

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