World Championships are all wrapped up, with the USA taking gold after a tight contest with Canada. The Haudenosaunee took home the bronze with a team that looked much closer to beating the US and Canada than they did four years ago, led by a spectacular effort from Austin Staats all tournament.
There were no shortage of incredible stories and performances by that Big Three. But there were 27 other nations competing as well. From those other 27, we got to see great lacrosse, reminding fans of just how far the game is coming across the globe. A few major takeaways for me:
The joy of Japan, a model for the rest of the world
The talk of the round robin stage. Japan was the top seed in Pool B, and everyone else in the pool got run over. Significantly. Japan didn’t lose a round robin game, outsourcing their opponents by a ridiculous 70-6 score over four games. World Lacrosse caps goal differential at 12 per game, so Japan had the maximum possible goal differential of +48. Shinya Tateishi was the only player not from the Big 3 to be named to the All World team at the end of the tournament thanks to his 30+ points. Japan fell to the Haudenosaunee in the quarters, showing that, in the field game, they still have a bit of a gap to close. But they defeated England in the 5th place game, meaning the Japanese will be in Pool A with the world’s best at the next championships.
Japan did not have a single player on the roster who played college lacrosse in the US. At a foundational level, Japan has never had help or input from corporate or government funding. They did it themselves. Some players from Johns Hopkins visited Japan in the mid eighties, helping to spark interest in the sport. In 1987, the Japan Lacrosse Association was founded, driven entirely by students. They even refused a million dollars from Sony, because they didn’t want to depend on corporations. The JLA went from 21 players at it’s founding to 9,000 players in seven years. It hit 18,000 players in 2017.
It all adds up to a stretch where Japan takes bronze in Sixes, is a dark horse for a medal in field lacrosse, and had people clamoring that they should have been in Pool A all tournament. It’s a model for how the game can grow when it’s driven by passion, love of the sport, and a focus on good coaching over trying to make some money. Their play was remarkable, their story could not be more important.
Jamaican me crazy
It takes a lot to pull American and Canadian eyes away from games involving the Big Three, or really any Pool A games, early in the tournament. But that’s what Jamaica did. They won Pool D, beating a talented German team on the way, and grabbed the 10 spot in the playoff seeding. From there they upset Italy in the 1st round, and finished with an overall finish of 8th in the World. The top ten finish automatically qualifies them for the next World Championships, as a top seed in a Pool D again. Stone Evans was the story within the story. The rising high school senior and Air Force commit showed off impressive dodging and shooting ability. Evans plays for Cushing Academy in MA, and for Six Nations Jr A in the OJLL to get some summer box in and grow his game there. His level of play had lacrosse fans wondering if he’d still be going to Air Force. It’s probably an overreaction to think that play in international rules might skyrocket him to the top of Danowski’s list or something like that. His story was great, I’ll be sure to stream a few Cushing games this year. Evans and top midfielder Khairi Sears were the top offensive players to watch, with Sears scoring 13 goals in the tournament. The defense had no shortage of impressive play as well. Goran Murray is a known after his time at Maryland, but I thought Channing Thomas was outstanding. He’s an assistant coach at University of Bridgeport and from Norwalk, so the CT connections might make me biased, but his athleticism particularly off the ground jumped out to me. He and Tony Diallo joined Murray to form a very solid defensive group in front of Nate McPeak. Ultimately, Jamaica was the story here because they, like Japan, are what #GrowTheGame looks like. A stick got into their hands as kids, they fell in love with the game, and here they are. Over time, they pass that on to others inspiring as players, or as a coach like Thomas, and you end up with a talented team locking up 8th at Worlds.
The kids are alright
The college talent across the board at World Championships was eye catching. Yes, there is the obvious player to point to is Brennan O’Neill, the Tewaaraton winner this year who also won MVP of the World Championships. His five goal performance in the gold medal game was sublime. Yes, it’s only July. But that could be a precursor to what O’Neill puts on the field next spring. Hearing all about how he got taken out in the Final Four is the kind of thing that sticks with a competitor like him. Five goals against Canada might be in the first chapter of a story where O’Neill just says, “oh yeah? Watch this.” every weekend. But beyond the masterful play of O’Neill, there were other college players who played excellent all week. We also talked about Jamaica a bit already, but Stone Evans is another prime example of the younger group that impressed.
Jake Piseno was named the best defender at the tournament, and was everywhere. The Albany LSM/D likely will be near the top of the defensive lists for the next PLL draft, but he showed off the skills the will make him a top pro prospect. He had as many CTs and GBs (11) during the tournament, and had six points on two goals and four assists. The LSM position at the pro level now has a hard requirement for offensive ability, skills off the ground, and the intelligence to play some offense, particularly for players who are on faceoff wings and will deal with a short shot clock. Piseno showed off all that at a pro level, and the outstanding CT ability is just icing on the cake.
Rutgers faceoff specialist Jon Dugenio had an excellent tournament. Not only did he go 89-108 taking faceoffs, he stayed on as a first midline option for Philippines. He racked up 10 goals and four assists in the tournament. Again, through the lens of a PLL evaluator, it’s important to show these kinds of skills. With the rules in the PLL how they are after faceoffs, a player who is skilled enough to stay on has become a borderline must have at the pro level. He has another year to show his stuff with Rutgers this spring.
Israel had multiple college players on the roster, and two stood out. Penn’s Robert Schain finished with 20 points on eight goals and 12 assists. Only Nate Solomon had more points for Israel. As Penn looks to build an offense without Sam Handley, Schain is a player who will likely become a featured weapon. Max Krevsky’s role at Yale this year grew every week as a two way midfielder. He impressed for Israel as well in a similar role. Five goals and five assists, a pair of CTs, picked up some ground balls, just impacted the game in multiple parts of the field. Krevsky could emerge as a first line midfielder for Yale next season.
Justin Inacio looking real healthy
Canada knew they’d be without Jake Withers to start the tournament, and Inacio has recently come back from a major knee injury. For PLL fans, his performance was one to watch. Inacio plays for Archers, who drafted Mike Sisselberger this year. With Sisselberger having early success, Inacio is playing to keep his spot on the team, or make himself a clear viable option for other clubs looking to acquire help facing off. He did both at Worlds.
In a three game stretch against England, Jamaica, and Haudenosaunee, Inacio went a combined 30-35 with 14 ground balls. Yes, that’s not all PLL level competition and the PLL rules are different, but the consistent high level play across multiple games is eye catching. He followed that performance with an 8-18 day against the US, which is about as anyone was hoping to do all tournament.
There are clubs who could use faceoff help in the PLL who should be taking a hard look at Inacio. The Archers suddenly went from having faceoff be a position of need to a position of serious depth.
The hit heard ‘round the World Championships
It was an ugly way to send off what otherwise had been a pretty clean and well contested tournament. With over 100 games played, coming away with just one hit that raised to this level is a good thing. By now most have heard about or seen the clip, but as the 5th place game between Japan and England wound down, with barely a second left on the clock, England’s Andrew Baxter led with his helmet and hit Japan’s Sota Hakozaki in the head late, sending the latter to the ground where he remained for a few minutes. Hakozaki was taken to the hospital and released, with Japan saying in a statement that he was in good health.
The hit had fans all over calling for discipline for Baxter. He had been flagged for an illegal body check earlier in the game. He also is the England team captain. In the end, Baxter received a six game suspension from international play, with England Lacrosse also saying they’d be further reviewing internally for possible additional discipline. While the sentiment for some was that this felt light given the severity of the hit that drew the suspension, with the context that Baxter had been excessively physical at other times in the tournament. Consider that Baxter is 34 years old. He will be 38 years old for the next World Lacrosse Championship. Six games from international play likely means he’ll miss out on, at least in part, the next European Qualifiers. From that perspective, six games likely does end his international career, barring his still being included on the next 23 man for worlds at age 38.