September 7, 2012

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Star-Studded Coaching Staff Prepared for 'Duel in Denver'

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Furman coach Richie Meade and a brand new coaching staff will debut on the Team USA sideline Saturday night against Canada.
© Kevin P. Tucker

The rosters have been set. The stage has been set. Now it's time to duel.

Team USA and Canada square off Saturday (9 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. local) at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., in a prelude to the 2014 FIL World Championships, hosted by US Lacrosse at the same venue. The "Duel in Denver" is rematch of the 2010 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship gold-medal game, in which Team USA defeated Canada, 12-10, in Manchester, England, and serves as a launching point for the selection of the USA's 2014 team.

Team USA stacked its lineup with players starring on the professional stage this summer, including 10 members from the 2010 U.S. men's national team: Ryan Boyle, Ned Crotty, Kyle Dixon, Stephen Peyser, Paul Rabil and Max Seibald, among others. Canada countered with its biggest names — Brodie Merrill, John Grant Jr., Mark Matthews, Geoff Snider and Kevin Crowley — along with a mix of young up-and-comers.

General admission tickets to the "Duel in Denver" are priced at $20 and are available at www.uslacrosse.org/duelindenver. Or fans can follow along live, as ESPN3 will broadcast the exhibition and LaxMagazine.com will have a live blog. Interact on Twitter with hashtag #USAvCAN for news and live updates from the event.

In order to help prepare you for the weekend, LaxMagazine.com caught up with three members of Team USA's new, star-studded coaching staff that will share the sideline for the first time as a group. Former Navy and current Furman head coach Richie Meade leads the staff, and he's assisted by Kevin Cassese (Lehigh), Dave Pietramala (Johns Hopkins) and Jeff Tambroni (Penn State).

The anticipation approaching "Duel in Denver" has been equally exciting for the coaching staff, which has been meeting via teleconference every Monday morning at 6 a.m. Cassese joked, "coach Meade has us on military time. We're getting acclimated to the 0:600 conference call."

Here's what the coaches had to say...

Head Coach Richie Meade

What's your excitement level ahead of your first event as coach of Team USA?

All of us — the whole coaching staff — are excited to get together. We've been talking to each other on the phone every Monday for an hour-and-a-half or so. Talking about the whole program, about getting ready for picking the guys who are going to be involved in this. It's the first evaluation for players for Team USA. That's been exciting. We're all anxious to get out there on the field and watch them play. It'll probably be a vanilla game in terms of strategy, and all that stuff. But both teams are going to let the great players play. I'm more concerned on the defensive side of the ball. On the offensive side, you've got great talent, you can let them play, they're going to score some goals. We're more concerned about how well we can get our defense together on the same page in a very short period of time.

What are you looking to get out of the weekend?

We're anxious to have the staff work together in a game situation. I'm personally anxious to see the players' attitudes — how they play with teach other. All the intangible things you try to gauge — unselfishness, commitment, being able to make the appropriate play at the appropriate time, effort level. That's going to be a fun and exciting. That's really what we're trying to see: We're trying, on both sides of the ball, to watch guys put the effort and sacrifice in to play as a team. Those are some of the things I'm going to be concerned about. But overall, we're looking to do two things: evaluate the players, and win the game.

You mentioned the defensive concerns. What specifically are they?

When you put a bunch of Canadians on the field, they just play different than we do. They're very lethal offensively. Defensively, we obviously have to play physical, 1-on-1 defense. That's a key. But we've got to play great off-ball defense. That's a little bit different than the style in the MLL, or the style a lot of our guys are used to doing. We're going to have to ramp that part of our game up a little bit. We're going to have to do a good job during the game of coaching — talking about the types of things that are happening, and keeping the guys focused.

In your whole life, you don't get to coach a group of guys like this too often. We're going to get great effort with our players. I've been impressed with the feeling I've gotten. The guys are very excited about this. Who wouldn't be? When you get a chance to be this young, on this level, and play in a game like this, you have to be excited. So we want excitement to blend with execution. That's going to be fun.

As a coaching staff, we've got to do our job. We've talked about this: I'm really impressed with out coaching staff. But I'm going to have to do a good job of not getting in their way. These guys are all ready, they're all prepared. But we don't want to over-coach our team. We don't want to throw too many things at them. These guys are all great, great players. We want to put them in a position where they're physically and emotionally ready, and focused to be able to play to the best of their ability. That's our approach. We're not going to try to dazzle the Canadians with what we know as coaches. We're going to try to put our players in a position to play loose, play together and play at a very high level.

What kind of lacrosse do you want Team USA to play?

We want to play the greatest lacrosse that's ever been played. That should be our goal.

- Team USA head coach Richie Meade

I said it when I was asked to do this: We want to play the greatest lacrosse that's ever been played. That should be our goal. In order to do something like that, you've got to play against great competition. And certainly this Canadian team is. They're in the same position we're in. They're playing a bunch of younger guys on their team; that's the way they chose. But I'm sure they're going to be very enthusiastic. Our guys are a little bit more experienced. So I think we're going to get great competition, and we're going to provide them with great competition.

As far as roster composition, what were some of the things you were looking for?

We didn't look at this as an end. We looked at this as a beginning, and part of a process by which we're going to pick the U.S. national team. This is not the U.S. national team. This is a team that's being evaluated to have the opportunity to try out for the U.S. national team. That's the process and approach we're using. What we tried to do was get together and figure out who we thought — at the time we picked this group — was playing the best in the MLL, and the LXM, taking into account what the coaching staff knew collectively.

We didn't pick a team here. We picked the guys we felt were most ready. There are some great, great players who aren't on this team. They either got hurt, or were banged up. At the time we picked it, we didn't know what their condition would be. We didn't want to pick a guy who was hurt and have him feel an obligation to play, when maybe he wasn't ready to play and there was another guy who was 100 percent. Chris Eck got hurt, and we replaced him with somebody else. That was disappointing for Chris, but he'll get another chance. There's a couple other guys banged up too, but they're in a position where they can contribute and play, and they feel good about where they are. So that's the way we went about it. In some of these events they just go down the list of the guys who previously played on the U.S. national team, which is a lot of good players, but we wanted to focus on the here and now — who was playing the best at the time we picked the team. That was our method.

You mentioned the defensive concerns earlier. What specifically will you be looking for from the other position groups?

The defensive stuff is always a matter of playing together. Everyone always talks about how you have to play together offensively, but you've got to play more together on the defensive side. It's easy to somebody to be in their own head and play the ball. But in order for us to successful, we're going to have to have a team concept. It's going to kind of be a hybrid — play your man and don't let him run by you, and scheme wise knowing who we're playing against and supporting guys at appropriate times, making those decisions.

We haven't had a chance to practice. We haven't had a chance to prepare. We haven't seen these guys on film. We're kind of going into this the same as the Canadians. Everybody knows the guys. Everybody knows who they're playing against. Everybody knows what others like to do. But it's a matter of putting it all together. Sliding from the right place at the right time, and not sliding. Making those types of decisions — not get caught staring at the ball and get beat off the ball, with a back-door cut. Playing the pick on the ball, the pick-and-roll game. Not only the two guys on the ball, but everyone off the ball. We're going to have to be good at that. These are all these things we're going to have to get better at as the game goes along.

These guys have been playing all summer in a certain type of game. I think this game, defensively, is going to be a little bit different than some of the other games they played in. You don't usually have six Canadian offensive players on one team. That's a source of concern. They play the game a little bit differently. Their stick-work is tremendous, and they can shoot the ball really well. It's incumbent upon our defensive players to help our goalies and not let them shoot from places where they're definitely going to score. We've got to keep them away from the goal. We've got to be physical and make them earn everything they get.

That's my focus, personally. On the offensive side of the ball, we're going to put guys in formation to let them play. We've got some of the greatest players in the word. You can't bog them down with roadblocks. But I think we've got to be disciplined and make really good choices in transition. Take care of the ball.

We're playing a very good offensive team. The best way to play an offensive team is to never let them have the ball. That's part of it to.

Have you given much consideration to your attire?

I don't know. I've got something. I've got a hat that was given to me by somebody that's very meaningful to me. I don't think it's appropriate to share.

It doesn't have scrambled eggs [Navy] on it, though. Those are going to be kept for cutting the lawn on Saturday afternoon, I think. They've run their course.

Assistant coach Kevin Cassese

Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese has been involved with U.S. national teams program since 1999, when he played on Team USA's under-19 men's team in Australia.
© Greg Wall

How excited are you to get out to Denver and work with this coaching staff, and these players?

I'm very excited. It's a great group of people, a great group of men. That starts with the US Lacrosse support staff, all the way down to the players and coaches as well. It's a somewhat unique perspective for me, because I'm more familiar with the players than I am with the rest of the coaching staff. It's going to be a learning experience for me. With the coaching staff, we're going to figure out what our roles are going to be. I'm excited to break it in that way. Also, every guy on the roster, is a friend, former teammate or competitor. These are guys I know really well. So I'm looking forward to getting back and sharing some good times with those guys.

You've been a long-time member of the Team USA program, so this is the next step?

For me personally, I bleed red, white and blue. I've been involved with Team USA on some level as a player or coach ever since the U19 games in Australia in 1999. It's been about 14 years for me. That's something I'm excited to continue in this assistant coaching role. My intention is to be involved in US Lacrosse as long as they'll have me. Hopefully that's a relationship that lasts a long time.

With this group right now, with the coaching staff especially, these are coaches I admire. These are coaches I've looked up to in my young coaching career. To be able to work with and have learned from these men is truly an honor for me, and I'm excited to get that going this weekend.

Will your experience with the international game influence your role on the staff?

I'm excited about it. I told coach Meade that I would be prepared to do whatever he needs me to do, whether that's run the box, coach the faceoffs, coach the goalies or run the side of the field. Whatever he would like me to do, I would be happy to do it. If my role is going to be running the box — which gets kind of chaotic, especially in international play — or if it's going to be working with the faceoff guys — which also gets rather chaotic in international play — or working with goalies, I'd embrace it. I'm looking forward to whatever role coach Meade wants me to assume.

Enjoyed those early morning conference calls?

We're all getting to know each other, and we're all getting to know coach Meade. It has been fun every step of the way.

Expectations for the game are two-fold: Evaluate and win?

This is the perspective I take: Any time you put on a USA jersey, there's a standard that comes along with that. It's a gold standard. Regardless of whether they're awarding a medal for this weekend, the gold standard is to win and be successful. Obviously the roster is going to change, the roster numbers are going to change, but the expectation — at least from our end — is that the play remains the same, no matter who's wearing those jerseys. That's what we're looking for this weekend.

Obviously anytime USA and Canada hook up, I don't care if it's on the lacrosse field, if it's outdoor or indoor, or if it's Monopoly. It's going to be hotly contested and highly competitive. So I would expect nothing less, and that would be very fun to be a part of.

I wouldn't expect the level of play to be polished. It'll be a very high level, but it'll be somewhat fragmented — not without glitches. None of thee guys have played together, the full roster, except for this game. That's the case for the Canadians as well. So I think there will be a high level of play and athleticism and individual performance. But there will be some growing pains on both ends, and some kinks. It's not going to be like the 2010 gold medal game where each team had played together for a dozen games.

Assistant coach Dave Pietramala

LaxMagazine.com Coverage

* Five Things to Watch from USA
* Harrison Back
* Zink Enters Spotlight
* USA Stacks Roster
* Canada Unveils Lineup
* Eck Out, Dolente In for USA | Walters Added
* More Coverage

What's your excitement level on being named an assistant to Team USA's coaching staff?

I'm very thankful to Coach Meade for asking me and affording me the privilege of being associated with Team USA. I'll be quite frank with you: It's a job I said I'd never do. It was selfish on my part, because I have a program to run. And the way recruiting has gone right now, it's tough to be away from your campus and not be there to handle recruiting and spending time with families. You miss opportunities to recruit at camps and all-star games. But when Coach Meade was offered the job and he approached me, I didn't say yes right away. I said, "I'd like to think about it." And the positives outweighed the negatives by so much. The fact that I get to work with him, a guy I have tremendous respect for. I've never had that opportunity.

I looked at it as an opportunity to learn. I get to go work with him and see how he does things, and maybe take some things that will help our program at Johns Hopkins. I get to work with my good friend Jeff Tambroni. We worked together at Cornell, and I get to learn from him as well. It would help me both personally and professionally. In regards to the USA thing, I looked at it as a chance to work with some great young people, some great men. I work with our guys, but we recruit a ton of guys that go to other schools and we say, "It would have been great to have that guy. We would have loved him. He's terrific." And now I have an opportunity to work with some of those guys and leave our very private cocoon here at Hopkins. I feel like it's a huge step for me to venture out and do this. I'm very excited obviously to have a chance to represent the USA.

I'm really excited about it, a little anxious. I want to make sure we do our job. I'm anxious as to making sure I continue to honor my responsibilities to Johns Hopkins. I'm going to have to manage my time better, put more time in, a few more sleepless nights and maybe a little more time away from home. But hopefully the chance to have my wife and my kids associated with Team USA, for a dad, that's a really unique thing to have my kids be around those guys. That would be pretty cool.

Your memories of playing for Team USA?

For me, that was a distinct privilege and honor when I got to do it twice as a player. I have very fond memories of my time. When I thought about it and the opportunity Coach Meade presented, I thought back to my time and getting a chance to meet Vinnie Sombrotto and Norman Engelke and to spend more time with a guy like Steve Mitchell and Larry Quinn, to play alongside Zach Colburn and Glen Miles, guys I played against—what a great opportunity for me to develop relationships with those people, broaden my horizons and be a part of something that's just bigger than all of us. In the end, the chance to work with Coach Meade, to learn and continue to develop as a coach, to represent Johns Hopkins with Team USA and then the chance to work with some of these guys that are playing the game collegiately and professionally – to work with some of those guys we've competed against on the field as a coach — was really appealing to me.

What's different about coaching professional players?

It's an interesting question, about coaching pros from college coaches who are very demanding of their teams. Listen, I'm sure Mike Pressler is a very demanding coach of his team, and Jack Emmer I know was demanding of his guys. But we're coaching pros, guys people define as "weekend warriors," and I just watched Mike Kryzyezwski do it with Jim Boeheim at his side with Team USA basketball – two great college coaches, and one in particular you know is extremely demanding of his players in Mike Kryzyezwski. These guys that play pro lacrosse, I've learned they're more committed than people realize. I've watched Paul Rabil. I'm walking over here today to speak with you, and who's out on our field taking shots? Paul Rabil. I've watched a bunch of pros who are just local come by and use the field. A lot of these pro guys come out and work with their personal trainers, they're out here shooting. They're out here pulling sleds. There's a greater commitment than people realize.

These guys out here playing pro lacrosse, they're talented. The skills that they've developed, the size and physicality of their play and their understanding of the game is very impressive. But the thing that maybe I'm even more impressed with is the commitment that a lot of them have. They've got to make things work to get there. They've got to leave jobs. Some of them have to leave wives and kids. It's not easy to travel across the country and do that. I'm excited to do it, because I think there's a greater commitment than people realize. I'm excited to work with these guys. I'm hoping as a staff we can make this experience for those that try out and those that make the team, a really special one — make them feel like they're a part of something really unique and special, and it's something they'll take with them for years to come.

In regards to the coaching staff being a demanding one, I think we all have to find our roles. But you're talking about mature adults now, and it's a little different. The commitment these guys have will make coaching them far less challenging than people think and far more exciting than people think.

Check back to LaxMagazine.com for full coverage of Saturday's "Duel in Denver." To see the matchup in person, general admission tickets are priced at $20 and are available at www.uslacrosse.org/duelindenver.


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