posted 07.25.2012 at 2.51 p.m by Connor Buczek and Joey Leonard

Hard but Rewarding Road to Gold in Finland

Joey Leonard (left) and Connor Buczek celebrated the U.S. U19 team's championship game win over Canada in Finland.
© Corey McLaughlin

Mission accomplished!

After a turbulent start during round robin play, our team really came together to accomplish the goals we put in place over a year ago when we tried out for the U.S. under-19 men's national team.

We wanted to become the best team we could possibly be on the field. Check. We wanted to be a cohesive unit and form relationships that would last past the World Championships. Check. Finally, we wanted to win a World Championship. Check!

Traveling to Finland was a great experience for the whole team, but not just in the lacrosse aspect of the trip. We stayed in the Petrea, which is a back and spinal rehab center in the city of Turku. The Petrea offered much more than housing for the team. The facilities offered everything from a big gym to play floor hockey and basketball in, to a great pool and sauna to relax after the games. The floor hockey team of Tyler Barbarich (midfield/ FOGO, Delaware, #12), Steve Pontrello (midfield, UNC, #21), Ralph D'Agostino, (LSM, Syracuse, #33), and Greg Danseglio (Defense, Virginia, #20) dominated the gym. But let's not understate the talents shown the goals by Coach Flynn and equipment manager Jay Bissette.

Three other teams -- England, Finland, and Australia -- stayed in the Petrea with us. We instantly hit it off with the other teams and had fun testing our FIFA skills against the rest of the world. I think it's safe to say the English were the teams to beat on the Xbox sticks, but for what it's worth, we put up a good fight. A quick shout out to my boys Mike Connor, a goalie from the English team, #2, and Anssi Kaisalmi, a midfielder from the Finnish team, #13. Anssi, among others, was a great help in teaching us about the Finnish culture.

One of our favorite moments was returning back to the Petrea after beating the Iroqouis in the semifinals, and Canadians in the finals, to a sea of English and Finnish friends congratulating us as we walked into the hallway dance party that they had set up for us.

The adversity we faced during the tournament proved to be one of the most monumental experiences for all of us, as we banded together and saw the leadership that our team had to offer. We held a two-hour player-only meeting after our loss to the Iroqouis Nationals in round robin play and discussed all that had gone wrong, and all the things we needed to fix. This included everything from our role on the team to aspirations and expectations for the rest of the tournament. A sign that was posted above our snack table at the Petrea basically summed up everything that needed to be said and accomplished in the meeting. It stated, "We can pack up our stuff and go home, or we can be the most dangerous team in the tournament... Our choice."

We had all the pieces of the puzzle sitting in that conference room, we just had to finish putting the puzzle together. The final product was a family that we would do anything for to win the gold medal, and become world champs.

Unfortunately, this was not the only adversity we faced during our quest for a gold medal. One of our trainers, Mandy Merritt, was forced to leave unexpectedly to go back to the U.S. and deal with a family emergency. We were all disappointed that she had to leave, but understood that family comes first. In honor of her we all wrote the letter "M" on our calves in the championship game, to honor a member of our team that wasn't able to be in Turku.

Throughout our time in Finland, we bonded together as a family both on and off the field to win our first world championship as a team. I think most members of our team would agree that the adversity we had to face and persevere through made winning the gold medal that much sweeter. Stephen "Bones" Kelly (midfield, UNC, #24) said it best in his Baltimore Sun blog, when he said we won it with 22 of our new best friends.

Thanks to everyone who tuned in to read the blogs and support our team throughout our journey for a gold medal. Also, a special thanks to all of our staff that put in countless numbers of hours to make our team what it was, and for all the support of our families who traveled to Finland to cheer us on to victory.

Oliveri says Purple, Jay says Gold,

Connor and Joey

Song of the Week: Poika Saunoo by Poju
Word of the Week: #Family

For complete coverage the FIL U19 World Championships, visit laxmagazine.com/teamusa/u19men.

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