October 7, 2011

U.S. Rookies Eye Spot on 2014 World Team

by Chris R. Vaccaro | LaxMagazine.com

MLL championship MVP Jordan Burke of the Boston Cannons will make his Team USA debut this weekend against Duke at Stars & Stripes.

This year's Stars & Stripes weekend has received so much attention that Sunday's games have switched locations from Duke University to Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, N.C., because of the expected crowds.

The U.S. men's national team scrimmages Duke on Sunday at 11 a.m. Team USA is two years away from defending its world title in Denver in 2014. This group of players is part of a pool developed to begin the gelling process for personnel and coaches, who still need to formally apply and try out for the world games prior to the event.

It also marks a homecoming for Duke alums and U.S. players Ned Crotty ('10) and Matt Danowski ('08) and for U.S. men's coach Kevin Cassese ('02).

Cassese, who coached the men's team during last year's Stars & Stripes weekend at Harvard, is looking forward to his second go-around, especially on his old stomping grounds.

"I haven't been there in a while," he said. "It will be fun to get back down and see the campus again, see the team and coaches."

Cassese, who coached against Duke only one other time with his Lehigh team in 2008, will be joined by new Towson head coach Shawn Nadelen, who will serve as his assistant. They were teammates when the U.S. won the 2010 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship in 2010.

This weekend's group will feature players from that championship team, members of the 2009-10 training team and a mixture of MLL stars. U.S. newcomers include midfielder Pat Heim, goalie Jordan Burke and defenseman Richie Schmidt.

"Anytime you put on the red, white and blue, it carries with it a little extra weight," Cassese said. "It's the pinnacle of our sport, being able to represent Team USA."

For others like Schmidt, the former C.W. Post product and only Division II player on the U.S. team's roster, putting on the U.S. jersey bears a meaning beyond sport. His uncle Terry Patrick Farrell, a New York City fireman, died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. His father Richie Schmidt is also a member of the FDNY in Rescue 4.

"The Schmidts are an American family," he said.

Schmidt learned he made this exhibition team on the same day as the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

"My dad told me I have 343 angels watching over us," said Schmidt, referring to the number of firemen who lost their lives on Sept. 11. "That's how I look at it. It's not a coincidence. These things don't just happen at the same time. I'm getting really excited to get down there."

If that wasn't enough, friend and former C.W. Post standout Mike Messina -- the reigning NCAA Division II Player of the Year -- was injured in a car accident on Long Island over the weekend, so Schmidt is playing with his buddy in mind.

"I have a lot of internal motivation for me right now," he said.

For Duke, the challenge of playing against a group of seasoned laxers is always fun.

"It's an honor to be asked to compete against those guys," Duke coach John Danowski said. "It's a no-lose. It's about our guys gaining a little bit of confidence to make a couple of plays."

Of course, it's the U.S. team's job to look crisp, strong and fluid in its playmaking, even with only a few practice sessions under its belt before games this weekend.

"I look at it as a great challenge, a great opportunity to play against one of the best college teams in the country," said Heim, who plays for the Boston Cannons and starred at Penn State.

Like Heim, other teammates also concur that this weekend begins the process to see who will actually make the final roster for the 2014 world games.

"We have to show what we can do and make a statement going forward for the 2014 tryouts," said Jordan Burke, who played at Brown and was the MLL championship MVP for the Cannons in August.

Duke defeated Team USA in the 2010 Champion Challenge. U.S. players will rely on experience to guide them this weekend.

"If we just communicate in terms of who's dodging and looking for the open guy, it's a pretty simple concept," Heim said. "If we stick to that, I think we'll be okay."

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