Scotland Looks to Build, Honor Fallen Teammate
|Scotland at the end of the 2012 European Lacrosse Championships. Robert Hetherington (#4) died in 2013 while serving in the British Army.|
Coaches generally don't make guarantees prior to tournament play, but Scotland head coach John Kenney isn't shy about making one guarantee heading into the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship, presented by Trusted Choice.
"We'll have a bagpiper," said Kenney with a laugh.
Kenney, the longtime successful coach at Detroit Country Day (Mich.) School, has coached Scotland since the 2008 European Championships, and its seventh place showing at the 2010 World Championship in Manchester, England, was a sign of its emerging presence.
Scotland won its first five games to advance to the quarterfinals against Australia, when the game was delayed by lightning.
"We were getting beaten 11-2 when the game was stopped and all through the delay we could hear the Australian team singing songs in their dressing room," recalled Rory Marsden, who will be playing in his second world championship this year. "When the game restarted, we came out hard, and for 20 minutes we were on fire. We scored the next seven goals to bring the game back to 11-9. In the end, Australia eased out to a comfortable win, but for 20 minutes the comeback was on and we were going to win our sixth game in a row."
When Scotland opens play against Thailand on July 11, they'll do so with one key member not on the sideline, but very much in their hearts.
Robert Hetherington died in April 2013 while serving with the Royal Regiment of Scotland of the British Army in Afghanistan.
"Bobby was one of my best friends," said Marsden. "We played lacrosse together at Stirling University and for Scotland at the European and World Championships in 2008, 2010 and 2012. He was the most fun-loving, hard-working, determined and genuine person I have ever known. He had an amazing ability to connect with people, build friendships, trust and respect. He was an incredible leader and an outstanding lacrosse player. Bobby was one of the captains in 2012 and was the best player on our team. He was an absolutely fearless defender, he had great balance and power, could throw checks without losing position and if there was a ground ball he was going to win it. No attacker ever wanted a match-up with Bobby."
"On the field, he was one of the best d-poles in Europe," said Kenney. "His death really hurt a lot of us. He was just a great guy. We're going to try to honor his legacy."
Just prior to the championship's opening, one of Scotland's players will be chosen to wear Hetherington's No. 4 jersey for the tournament. It means a lot to the players. Marsden's Facebook profile picture is a shot of a Scotland lacrosse helmet next to a No. 4 jersey.
"Every time we step on the pitch now, we play for Bobby," said Marsden. "He is still part of our team and inspires us to work a bit harder, play a bit smarter and give a bit more for the team and the players around us. He might not be here in person, but you can bet he will be right there on the pitch with us."
Scotland has been building for this championship for a long time, and Marsden points to Kenney and Keith Robertson, Scotland's assistant coach and performance director, for much of the credit.
"When I started playing lacrosse in Scotland, games were a string of ground ball battles where occasionally the ball would go in the goal," he said. "Now you can turn up to any match in the Scottish Lacrosse League and see good quality lacrosse being played by strong athletes, with good fundamental skills and great lacrosse IQ. It has been a herculean task."
For the last five or six years, Scotland has welcomed visiting colleges to the country each June. Last fall, the Scots came to the U.S. and scrimmaged C.W. Post, Adelphi and Stony Brook. Robertson and Kenney have done everything they can to work through the obstacles of limited youth leagues and only five universities with lacrosse programs.
But the rewards have been worth it.
"It has been the most enjoyable coaching experience I've ever had," said Kenney, who won nearly 400 games as a high school coach and had four sons play NCAA Division I lacrosse. "The willingness of the players that have come to the game late in life and their pure unadulterated love for the game of lacrosse is inspiring. There's no college scholarship. There's no expectations of playing time issues; just a real love for the game."
Marsden's love for the game is evident as he thinks about the upcoming world championship.
"I am expecting a lot from this world championships, both from the event itself and from our performance," said Marsden. "The guys who went to the '98 championships in Baltimore rave about how good it was. With this being the first world championships back in the USA since then I can't wait to see what it's going to be like. We're bringing the Tartan Army, so look out for some big crowds and a great atmosphere around the Scotland games."
The 2014 FIL World Championships are just around the corner - taking place from June 10-19 in Commerce City, Colorado. Be sure to catch all the action as the best in the world convene in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains - tickets available for all dates.
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