After the recent announcement that Natanya in Israel will host the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships, Team England headed across the Irish Sea this past weekend for a two game series with NCAA D1 Towson University. The Tigers have just come off a great season, reaching the NCAA Championship Final Four; going down 11-10 in the semi-final to eventual runners up, Ohio State.
With their most recent high performances from the NCAA fresh in the minds of the players, Team England team boarded the ferry at Hollyhead, Friday morning knowing they would have their work cut out; however looking forward to the opportunity of the challenge which lay ahead.
The two games were due to take place at the University College Dublin, with a vigorous schedule to replicate the demands of a World Championships. After previous games within the last twelve months for Team England against other D1 opposition (Marquette and Princeton), these Universities have proven to be ideal preparation for the national team, with the option to play such a team such a short distance away to good an opportunity to turn down.
After an early morning and hours of travelling under their belt, Team England arrived at UCD sports complex with one thing on their mind: to compete; to be competitive and more importantly look to take the W against one of the most effective teams in college lacrosse. Team England - with a mix of both energetic youth and experienced internationals - would be up against a team that put wins together in the 2017 season against formidable lacrosse programmes such as Johns Hopkins and Syracuse.
Prior to the game, both teams, coaches and spectators completed a minute silence for the victims of the Manchester terror attacks.
The first quarter was fairly cagey; whilst England created the fair share of opportunities, they were unable to put most of them away. Towson were the first to put a goal on the board, whilst Ryan Sweetman opened the scoring for England. Solid defensive play at both ends of the field restricted the score to 1-1. The second quarter was England's most dominant, with James Yanes securing England's second; coming round GLE and stinging the top left corner with a jump shot off a Nick Watson feed from X. Three goals then followed for England; the first from Watson - reaching the centre of the field off a trademark split dodge to open up a shooting opportunity low below the Towson keeper. Ryan Hunns was next on the scoresheet with an outside shot off a Zac Guy feed, whilst Hunns converted once again with a cut and finish off a Yanes feed.
After a reply from the Tigers, England continued their pressure with goals from Will Hardy and through Tom Brook off a give-and-go from a Face off, taking England to 7-2 at the half.
The English knew Towson would have been given a stern talking to during the break, and both teams rallied during the third.
The Tigers were next on the scoresheet; an alley dodge resulting in England defenseman breaking his stick and the Towson attacker using this misfortune to his advantage, tucking a neat shot past England keeper Will Baxter. A pacey dodge and high to low rip from Sweetman secured a brace for the Brooklands player, whilst the next came from Yanes off a fast break Hardy feed and a lovely catch and finish inside. The Tigers 4th of the game came from a Jon Mazza dodge from X; the prolific sophomore evading the double team and slotting the ball past Baxter; 9-4 England at three quarter time.
The final quarter showed Towson's offensive stature, with slick EMO ball movement and accurate shooting to net 4 goals on the bounce to England's one; coming from a lovely catch and finish from a former national team U19 player, Elliot Leonard. But it was too little too late for the Final Four team, with the game ending 10-8 to England.
As the obligatory line up took place, the England players knew they had more to give and that the weekend would not be a success unless they continued their form to take Game two.
As the sun beamed down over the University College Dublin, both the England National Team and Towson University headed down to UCD sports centre on a warm Sunday morning to fight out game two of their two game series in the Irish capital.
After a successful Saturday, Team England knew the Maryland based University would come out strong after their defeat, and that a high level performance was necessary.
Offensively, England set up slightly different from game one with man mountain Dan Condron heading up a Watson and Yanes attack. The Cheadle sharp shooter was to have a great day for the team in white, breaking the deadlock with a perfectly timed cut from a Watson feed from X. Towson evened the score up through Mazza; using a well-timed pick to his advantage and shooting low past Holden McDonald in the cage. Condron brought the score to 2-1 at first quarter time, scoring on EMO with another well timed cut.
The second quarter was a good one for the English, securing the next three goals. The first, a Hardy behind-the-back finish off another Watson feed; second, a neat inside finish from Watson and the third, a rifle of an outside shot from a trademark Sweetman bull dodge – sending the Towson SSDM who was guarding him crashing to the floor. The Tigers managed to pull one goal back through a failed English clear to make it 6-2 England at the half.
Towson showed glimpses of form which took them all the way to Gillette Stadium for the NCAA Final Four's, scoring the first two goals of the third quarter; both right alley dodge and finishes. Yanes took it to 7-4 England at three quarter time after a rifle low angle shot on EMO.
The fourth quarter was to be one of England's most successful of the weekend, securing the victory through four goals to Towson's one. Another EMO goal for Yanes, whilst Condron completed his hat-trick from an efficient England clear. Watson and Guy finished the scoring for England, whilst the Tigers scored a late consolation off a fast break opportunity. Final score: England 11 – 5 Towson. Post game, both teams came together for a photo; with a presentation of an England shirt and a Towson helmet to each of the respected Captains. I am sure both sets of players enjoyed the experience and opportunity to compete against a different style of opposition.
For Team England they had completed what they set out to do – two Wins against a formidable D1 university. However for them, this was just another step onto the journey to the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships. The countdown continues: 397 days to go....
Game 1 Stats: Team England 10 – 8 Towson University
James Yanes 2G + 1A
Ryan Hunns 2G + 1A
Ryan Sweetman 2G + 1A
Nick Watson 1G + 1A
Will Hardy 1G + 1A
Zac Guy 2A
Elliot Leonard 1G
Tom Brook 1G
Josh Roden 1A
Grant Maloof 3G
Brendan Sunday 2G
Jon Mazza 1G
Game 2 Stats: Team England 11 – 5 Towson University
Nick Watson 2G + 3A
Dan Condron 3G
Will Hardy 2G + 1A
James Yanes 2G
Ryan Hunns 2A
Zac Guy 1G
Ryan Sweetman 1G
Elliot Leonard 1A
Grady Fayle 1A