December 27, 2013

Rabil Readying for Final Team USA Push

by Sean Burns | | Twitter

Paul Rabil was MVP of the Team USA gold run four years ago in England. After sitting for much of the fall team work while rehabbing after surgery, he's ready for January's Champion Challenge. (John Strohsacker)

Four years ago, Paul Rabil left the field in Manchester having led Team USA to a gold medal at the FIL World Championships, earning the Best and Most Fair honors and All-World status at midfield. This September, after battling through torn abdominal muscles for much of the MLL season with Boston, the big middie underwent surgury and has been rehabbing ever since, preparing for the upcoming Champion Challenge. 

We caught up with Paul in Baltimore for a story previewing the event in the January issue of Lacrosse Magazine. This interview includes information that didn't make it in to the print edition.

So you underwent surgery in early September – what percentage would you say you’re at right now in terms of being ready for Champion Challenge?

The ‘percentage’ thing is always tough [to quantify]. I’ve had several conversations with my coaches and trainers, and physically, I’m back to 100%. I can’t wait to get back out there this January!

My muscle has recovered. Recently, I haven’t been limited in my workouts [starting in November], from sled pushes, to resistance-band sprints, to 300’s or circuit training, I’ve been able to accomplish it. 

It's as much about getting back to fitness as it is muscle recovery – and that's not easy to do as a professional athlete. But once the lights go on, I've never had any lack of confidence in trusting my body.

What has it been like to have to be on the shelf for most of the pre-Champion Challenge team work?

I think if you ask any athlete that has to sit on the sideline and watch their teammates play while they're injured, that's the toughest thing to do. You want to be a part of those hard workouts, sweating with the team and helping the team grow. It's unique to sports that so much of the hard work is done in practice.

You don't really 'look forward' to it, but when you sit out because of an injury, you realize pretty quickly how much you miss that kind of opportunity.

Has there been any benefit to having to work on the team building in a non-participatory way?

In all honesty, it's given me perspective. I've taken pride in growing in more of a leadership role and being able to talk to my teammates on the sideline between shifts. Understanding how my teammates act and react will help each of us play together.

What is the development in leadership on a team like this like? Do you think your experience in Manchester and MVP performance makes you 'that guy' by default?

I think everybody who makes it as far as this knows what Team USA is all about and what we're up against. Everyone has been a leader, has won championships, and has been successful at all levels. I don't attempt to stand out because of my previous experiences with Team USA – I try to engage players at every position and pump passion to help build chemistry with this team.

What would you say is the team's goal for Champion Challenge?

We've talked a lot about mentality. The most important thing to come out of [the tryout process] with is the best opportunity to win [in Denver].

Obviously, we have to make sure we continue to grow and develop as a unit and hopefully not have guys worrying about whether or not they'll be making the team. I thought over our second weekend in Philadelphia, it was great chance to see the guys really starting to put together that kind of chemistry.

For a Team USA roster, there's a ton of collaboration – everybody on the field has the ability to do a lot of stuff on their own, but it's all about accomplishing the team goal by using everybody's unique set of skills....together.

It's a different coaching staff for 2014 than the 2010 staff (led by head coach Mike Pressler). Has the experience so far been different with Coach Meade?

Yes and no. You're talking about two of the best coaches that have worked in the college ranks and are both phenomenal leaders. They both choose words carefully and are incredibly impactful. Neither just stands in front of the team and talks to make a point, everything is precise and for a reason. Everything trickles down from the top.

Obviously there are many nations at this summer's tournament, but Canada is your arch-rival and biggest challenger. Is this team being built to beat them, or just built as the best Team USA for any opponent?

It's probably a combination – putting together any team you need to have the right kind of role players, and that's going to be applicable whether you're playing Canada, the Iroquois, Australia or whoever.

The coaches have been more involved than any staff I've ever had since day one – making early calls, checking in that you're on the program and on point. They're well aware of how they want to craft the team, and are using this phase to develop everyone's talent and mold that to what they want the team to be.

Is it tough to know that Denver and the shot to defend the gold is still months away?

Individually, I'd be ready to go to Denver tomorrow, but there's a lot of development that we have to do as a team, no matter who makes the final roster. And that time is cherished and valued. I can't wait to spend time with the guys in January.

Having such success four years ago as MVP, are you feeling any pressure to come back this summer and put up a similar performance?

There's no pressure for me to earn individual accolades. The ultimate goal is to get out there and win a championship with your team, and every step along the way is what makes it worth it. I've cherished every step so far [in this process], even sidelined with an injury. I'm just excited.

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