The Wales men’s lacrosse team finally stepped onto the plane heading to Wrolcaw Poland to play in the European Championship. The team’s preparation had been extended by two years in the wake of the unfortunate COVID-19 Pandemic which has affected all and in different ways. Another wrinkle from the original European Championship format was to make the tournament a qualifying tournament, with no winner but just qualifiers. This change in format had the potential to change a teams’ mindset. Is a straight qualifying tournament worth the amount of commitment and mental fortitude during this prolonged period of unknown? To give some context, the original tournament was to have a gold, silver and bronze medal to be won. There would have been a group stage leading into the knockout rounds to determine final placings. Having finished fourth and being the top ranked European team outside the new blue division (countries who had prequalified due to 2014 World championships placing) we believed the ceiling for the success was high.
Now we found ourselves being the highest ranked European team who attended the tournament as the blue division did not need to attend due to the tournament format change. Although disappointing the silver lining to it was the realisation that we were not the underdogs. This was fresh and positive new pressure that the team relished. As Wales teams do, we get on with the job and task at hand, with a laugh and a giggle.
And I quote, “You guys are like the military in your approach”. This observer was commenting on just our warmup. The team internally managed to perfect the timing of their warmups. I am talking perfect energy level, timings, and the stages to be peaking come the first whistle. This allowed the team to reverse a common issue of slow starts. We came out of the gates in our games flying and fired up (pun intended). Along with the right warm up we had developed the scouting reports pre- and post-game. For the time we were out there it was a business trip and treated as such. Wake up, eat, scout report, eat, leave for the venue, play the game, return to the hotel, eat, post-game review (sport massages at the same time) and finish with a James Perrin moral of the story poignant message. This may seem mundane but an Elite level national team lives in a bubble of consistency. I can certainly say I was relieved to not be looking at game film for more time than I would like to admit at the end of the tournament. However, it is our job as coaches to prepare out players to a level we then expect them to play at. Once we got into a rhythm that was it, the whole group, coaches, management were humming and took care of business.
Turkey was dispatched 19-2 and the nervous energy of playing an international high stakes lacrosse game was over, it was on. Spain was our next opponent and presented a different challenge. A well-coached Spanish team who has been rising since before Israel 2018 were a polished opponent with a clear offensive and defensive ethos. We controlled the game and pulled away in the middle quarters winning 4-10. The next opponent, Latvia, was the one every player/coach had circled as soon as the new groups were released. The game in Israel had been a tense affair and one you would love/hate to watch depending on the viewer. It could have erupted with some heated collisions. This time around the team made sure there was no doubt who was the winner and stuck to the game plan following the process we began at the start of this tournament build up. The team jumped out to 3-0 in the first quarter and never looked back winning 10-3. The next game was 14 hours later and presented a mental toughness challenge. Slovakia threw a dreaded zone out against the boys. To the team’s credit they had taken on board the offensive principles installed way back in Israel and continued to be in printed in the way they play. This time it was to our detriment when we just needed more triggers to shoot being pulled. I digress - the team came away with a zone defence score 6-2. With that win the team booked their ticket to San Diego! The energy within the camp was high and the good vibes continues into a day off. The heralded day off where lacrosse is not the subject of the day. The boys went into Wroclaw, went to the stadium and generally had the day to themselves. When we reconvened at the hotel the minds were switched back on to finishing the job off. Denmark were our last opponents and the final hurdle to cementing our dominance and intent leading up to San Diego. The team were dominant and finished 14-4 winners.
A perfect tournament. When I think about, we expected nothing less. Wales has made themselves a force in international tournament. The development of how we go about our business and developing the skill set of the team and individuals. We now have a short turn around to San Diego and an opportunity to keep the moment going. The invasion begins.
Coach Chris Summers