June 27, 2012

Ottenbreit Bides Time at Virginia, Ready to Make Impact with U19 Team

Tanner Ottenbreit, Colorado's high school player of the year in 2011, bided his time at Virginia as a freshman, and is ready to make an impact as an athletic long-stick midfielder with the U.S. Under-19 men's national team.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

by Nathan Maciborski | LaxMagazine.com

Tanner Ottenbreit has heard the voice before.

Patience, my son.

He felt it while standing on the sideline under a clear Philadelphia sky as he watched his Virginia teammates rally for a 9-8 season-opening victory at Drexel this February.

Patience.

It was so faint it barely registered last fall, but it was there in Charlottesville when he watched his teammates accept their 2011 national championship rings.

Patience.

And the voice hovered like a specter over Ottenbreit in Baltimore in May 2011 when he watched his euphoric future teammates celebrate at M&T Bank Stadium.

Patience... you'll get your shot.

Ottenbreit's time will come — no one doubts it. Not his coaches, not his teammates and certainly not himself. Though going from big man on campus as a high school senior to the deep end of the depth chart — he played sparingly in five games as a Virginia freshman — is humbling for any athlete, Ottenbreit refuses to let it hinder his growth as a lacrosse player.

"It makes for a little adversity, but I'm not disappointed with anything," he said. "It just makes you want to work harder to earn a spot."

It's not the first time he'll have to.

Ottenbreit grew up in Colorado playing hockey first, then translated some of those skills onto the lacrosse field. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Dean, who was inducted into the Colorado State University Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2011.

A defenseman in both sports and a cornerback in football — "I guess it's just the ego of offensive people and trying to shut them down" that appeals to him, he said — Tanner got to high school only to discover six senior long poles on the roster in front of him. His coaches told him he wouldn't see many minutes but to learn as much as he could.

They moved Ottenbreit to midfield just to get him some playing time. By the time he graduated from Regis Jesuit in 2011, he was Colorado's Player of the Year and a state champ.

History could repeat itself at Virginia, where in 2012 Ottenbreit was stuck behind fifth-year Chris Clements and fourth-year Wyatt Melzer.

"They're both great guys," Ottenbreit said earlier this season. "Watching them helps me just as much as being on the field. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully get out there next year and have a big role on the team."

Head coach Dom Starsia sees Ottenbreit's potential and wants to get him on the field. Ottenbreit even took a few faceoffs in practice.

"He's athletic, he picks the ball up off the ground, and he's one of our best guys at keeping [the ball] loose and chasing it down," Starsia said. "We've just got to try to find ways to get him out there so he can contribute. ... Everyone around here has confidence in him. He's going to play an important role here."

Starsia said Ottenbreit reminds him a little of Peter Ragosa, another defensive-minded lacrosse player with a hockey background who came to Virginia in the late 1990s and wound up an All-American long-stick midfielder. But whereas Ragosa was largely unheralded and did most of his work quietly, Ottenbreit came to campus with a reputation approaching that of a rock star, with shoulder-length locks to match. At least, that's what Starsia thought he might be getting.

"I might have thought we were going to see a little more of that," Starsia said. "I've seen a kid who is very thoughtful and respectful, works hard, quietly goes about his business, and he has sort of grown on us over the course of the fall."

At a program like Virginia, everyone was a star in high school. Starsia believes that coming in with a swagger is not necessarily a bad thing. It's how those freshmen adjust and adapt to their new role that interests Starsia the most.

"The boys that play early are generally the guys that have the most resilient spirit," Starsia said. "Tanner has a very even personality; hasn't been ruffled. And he seemed quite satisfied that his role has kind of grown over the period of time that he's been here rather than walking in the front door and being handed anything. In Tanner's specific case, it's been a little bit of a surprise just the way he has come along, but very much a pleasant surprise."

Ottenbreit said he didn't lose that swagger upon arriving at Virginia, but understood his place.

"You want to adapt to what you need to do, but you don't want to change your style and how you want to go about things," he said. "You just try to be you."

It's that player that will play a big role on the U.S. under-19 men's national team this summer. Head coach Tim Flynn isn't worried that limited action with the Cavaliers will stunt him in any way. Look for Ottenbreit to push the ball from defense to offense.

"For an athlete of his varied abilities, we can take a look at a lot of different areas for him to be able to help the team — that's one reason we took him," Flynn said. "I don't think you can put any limits on what's possible with a guy like that."

Flynn got to know Ottenbreit well at a couple of U19 team functions and, like Starsia, was impressed by his demeanor.

"I love kids that look you in the eye when they talk to you, and I got that sense from him," Flynn said. "Just a really strong, positive personality. Very down-to-earth."

Those qualities will be key when the U19 team travels to Finland July 12-21 for the FIL World Lacrosse Championships. And when he's back at Virginia, that approach will help him when he hears the voice in the back of his head saying, "Patience, Tanner ... your time will come."

When it does, good things usually follow.

Follow the U.S. U19 team at laxmagazine.com/teamusa/u19men as it prepares for the FIL World Championships July 12-21. The team plays a group of New Jersey all-stars in Mountain Lakes, N.J., on Sunday.


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