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The Next Team USA: College lacrosse players who could be Olympic Sixes Stars

As of Monday, October 16th at 3:41am, lacrosse is officially an Olympic sport. Approved for the LA 2028 games, lacrosse comes back after a years, even decades, long push to bring the game back to the largest athletic stage there is. It hasn’t been played for a medal since 1908, and was last played as a demonstration sport in 1948. Back in 1948, just 1% of all households in the US owned a television.

The format in the Olympics will be Sixes, a discipline developed with the Olympics and the international lacrosse community in mind. Meant to reduce barrier to entry by shorting the field, reducing the number of players, and increasing both pace and scoring, Sixes is more like a combination of basketball and indoor lacrosse than traditional 10v10 field lacrosse. Rosters will have 10-12 players on them, including goalies, so the question becomes, who is going to play?

Caveats. There are no poles in Sixes. With that said, sorry defensemen, you’re out. There are no faceoffs outside of the start of a quarter. Sorry specialists, you’re out too. At the World Games in Birmingham, the US brought one converted pole, Canada brought none, there really isn’t much of a need for defensemen in this format. It’s about scoring and scoring a lot. Defense first players will gave way on the roster to two way midfielders who bring more to the offensive end. Rosters are simply too small to use a place on a faceoff man who won’t impact the game significantly in other ways. The name of the game for rosters, as we’ve seen Sixes to date, is attackmen, offensive midfielders, and two way players.

Secondly, we are talking a roster for 2028. That’s five years from now. A long, long way off. There was a social media post about building a Team USA roster, and it had guys like Rob Pannell among the availables. I love Rob Pannell; an all time great who will go straight from the playing field into the Hall of Fame as one of the most dangerous attackmen to ever pick up a stick. He’ll also be 38 years old, turning 39 in 2028. I don’t think roster building for the Olympics five years from now will have Pannell involved, fitness freak as he is. Could be wrong, Brodie Merrill played for Canada forever, just hedging bets here. Tom Schreiber, Captain America himself, will be 36 and that feels like about the top end of the age range for this.

So where do we go? Well, the younger players obviously. PLL players in their first three years at most and current college players make the most sense. If you want to get really crazy you can look at high school recruits, as they will be college seniors or grad students when the Olympics get played. Although traditionally, it’s unusual for a college player to make a Team USA roster for medal competition, and it’ll be even harder with a short roster for Sixes.

A few names are obvious. Brennan O’Neill already has been a Most Outstanding Player at a World Lacrosse Championship while playing as a midfielder. Joey Spallina has taken to the box game like a fish to water; he was top five scoring in the OJLL last summer, and that should only improve his game for the Sixes format. Connor Shellenberger is a do it all offensive weapon and a two time Tewaaraton finalist. But, outside of those three obvious names, what other college (or even high school) players should be on the radar for the Americans right now? I’ll venture a few names to watch, and then I will set a calendar reminder four years from now to delete this article.

Matt Brandau, Attack, Yale

There aren’t too many college kids out there with high level Sixes experience already. Save this kid. Brandau was on the Sixes roster that won a silver at the World Games in 2022. When looking for Sixes players, a few things are critical in my opinion. One, they shoot for a high percentage and hit the net a high percentage of the time. There is no shot backup in Sixes. A shot that goes out of bounds and a pass out of bounds are the same thing. Saves create transition. We want shots on net, in net, and no other outcome. No possession shots. We also want turnovers low, and we want players who split assists and goals. Brandau checks every box. He can play above the net, important for Sixes since there’s no shot back up. His goal/assist split is about 1.5/1 (154 goals, 105 assists at Yale). He is shooting 37% for his career, on net 64% of the time. Brandau has also been a key part of Yale’s aggressive 10 man ride, and those skills come in handy when it comes to defending Sixes transition. He’s in his final year at Yale, and will have a few pro seasons under his belt when the Olympics roll around.

Beau Pederson, SSDM, Princeton/Michigan

It makes sense to bring at least one true SSDM. There are a few quality candidates currently in college. Dante Trader, Grant Haus, both make sense and I won’t argue again their inclusion on any of your five years too early roster games. I pick out Pederson because of his stature and physical gifts. The Canadians and the Haudenosauneee will have some big players out there, and they’ll put a shoulder into your chest and play a little box on grass. At 6’3, 205 lbs, Pederson can match up with anyone that takes the field physically. At the college level he’s essentially reached fifth pole status. He was originally recruited to Princeton as an offensive midfielder and was an every game player for the Tigers as a freshman. He made the move to SSDM as a sophomore, was All Ivy and All American his junior and senior years. His game against Yale this year is emblematic of why he would be good in Sixes. Two goals on two shots, three ground balls, two caused turnovers. He took a total of three penalties in their entirety of the 2023 season. When you are building a Sixes defenses it starts with profiles like Pederson’s.

Andrew McAdorey, Attack/Midfield, Duke

Versatility, yet again. McAdorey started every game his freshman year at Duke at midfield. He started every game his sophomore year at attack. His skillset is best used above the net, which is desirable for Sixes. Like everyone else on this list, McAdorey is a high quality shooter. 33.5% for his career at Duke, hitting the net 67.6% of the time. His turnover numbers jumped up last season to 26 in 19 games, but with the move to attack that is expected. The next step for McAdorey to take is to really deliver consistently against the top tier opponents. Last year, he went 1-11 shooting against Cuse. 1 for 4 against UNC. Zeroes against UVA in their first matchup, though he had a hat trick in round two. In the NCAA semis and title game, he had two assists total and no goals. McAdorey’s role will grow, he’s a true junior this year. As it grows, his opportunities in those big games will grow. As long as he keeps developing, because of just how versatile he is as a playmaker, he’ll be a player to watch for the Olympics.

Patrick Hackler, Midfield, Yale

One of the best do-it-all midfielders in college lacrosse. Hackler is a top SSDM at Yale, he also stays on to play offense with their top midfield at times. He plays wings on faceoffs. He’s been the man down midfielder. He won’t be your top offensive weapon, but he’ll beat the other teams bottom defenders with ease. He won’t pile up the points, but he’ll impact the game in all phases. Sixes is a format about firepower and offense, but the defensive end of the field can’t be neglected. Part of that is getting buy-in on effort on defense from guys who are typically offense first threats. Another part is having guys like Hackler on the roster.

CJ Kirst, Attack, Cornell

The Olympic roster will likely have some number of Kirsts on it. They just keep showing up everywhere else. Between Connor, Colin, Cole, and CJ, there is a Kirst represented on five pro lacrosse teams (Whipsnakes, Redwoods, Cannons, Desert Dogs, Thunderbirds), Cornell, and Mimico in the OJLL. CJ is the one at Cornell, and he was a 1st team All American a season ago. He has two more years with the Big Red. Through his first two seasons, he’s taken 357 shots. Not a typo. Even with that volume, he’s shooting 33.6% and hitting the net 61.1% of the time. I have not gone back to look at all 357 shots, but I bet if I did, I wouldn’t find too many bad ones. His ground ball totals are also pretty impressive given that he’s an attackman. Kirst, like Joey Spallina, spent the summer in the OJLL, playing for Mimico. Box experience is a major plus when it comes to a Sixes roster, since so many box concepts are at play in the discipline.

Michael Leo, Midfield, Syracuse

A first line midfielder as a freshman and part of the youth movement in the Cuse program, Leo was one of the top recruits in the nation at his position, and played to the billing. Leo scored 15 goals for Cuse as a freshman, shooting 39.5% in the process. He had just nine turnovers on the year. Some of the numbers won't be as eye popping as they might be for a player like CJ Kirst, but with the way the Cuse offense is built, the ball, all the goals, get distributed across more than a half dozen players. Leo's shooting prowess and dodging ability make him a fit for Sixes. His athleticism makes him a legitimate two way threat in the format. He played attack in high school, midfield for Cuse, he can sore from all over the field. He's already shown he is ready for a big stage, scoring a buzzer beating game winner against UNC last spring.

Jake Spallina, Midfield, Syracuse

It’s hard to know how to list Jake Spallina. On the Cuse roster he’s listed as “FO/M”. It’s really something like FO/M/SSDM/A and maybe some LSM if it really came down to it? He can be precise and aggressive. The sharp and blunt objects. He is the scalpel and the sledgehammer. He does everything. If he’s not taking the faceoff, he wants to be playing the wing on it. Like all Spallina’s, there’s a little bit of anger to his game. He wants to win physically. Because he does so many things well, he’s a natural for a format like Sixes where rosters are short and you need a solid stable of two way midfield players. As mentioned above, his brother Joey just spent a summer as a top five scorer in the OJLL. Don’t be surprised if Jake makes the trip up to the OJLL with him next summer and starts further building his box skills. It will take his game to another level, and make him a great threat in Sixes.

The High School phenoms. The Millon Boys and Spencer Ford

McCabe and Brendan Millon were the top overall recruits in their respective classes. McCabe is at UVA now as a freshman, Brendan finishes high school in 2025. Spencer Ford is a top five recruit in his class (yes, same Spencer Ford) and is a senior at Boys Latin this year; he’ll be in the Maryland class of 2028. If you really want to get speculative about high school players that could be on the national radar, this is who I’d start with. Yes, we are in HIGHLY speculative territory here. None of these three have played a collegiate game yet, two are still in high school, and we’re talking about an Olympic Sixes roster five years early. Not a ton to go on. In today’s world, you’ll actually get a chance to watch Brendan and Ford play some high school ball this season, because everything gets streamed somewhere these days. You’ll catch McCabe in UVA games. What you’ll see is that they always play like the smartest guy on the field. They see the game at a level different than anyone else. Brendan is, like McCabe, already an elite dodger. Ford can play with the ball and without, he can diagnose a weakness and attack it. He has a long, lean frame and can win leverage battles with any size defender, and he can feed as well as he can finish. All three of these players bring something to the table that fits for Sixes. Be it that they are brutally difficult 1v1 covers, smart players who won’t waste possessions, and quality shooters. If this trio continues developing throughout their college career, they’ll put themselves on the Team USA radar come Olympic time.

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