U.S. Men's Box: Lessons Learned from LAXNAI
The U.S. tryout pool provided a glimpse of the program's future at LAXNAI.
The U.S. Men’s Box National Team tryout process began in Utica, N.Y., with a two-day training camp at the Nexus Center. Regy Thorpe and his coaching staff got a first look at the future of the program, one that hopes to advance to the gold medal game for the first time at next year’s World Lacrosse Men’s Box Championship.
A week later, much of the tryout pool returned to Utica to compete for the North American Invitational (LAXNAI) title for the first time since 2018. Split into two teams (USA Blue and USA White), players competed against some of the best box players on the continent in the annual tournament.
The goal of the two-week evaluation, according to Thorpe? Start to build the foundation of a team that will make history, meshing National Lacrosse League talent with the next generation of budding American stars.
USA White finished an unbeaten two-day run with a 9-2 victory over the Snake Island Muskies in the LAXNAI title game, clinching the first U.S. championship at the event. CJ Kirst was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 10 goals in five games.
USA Blue stumbled in the LAXNAI quarterfinals, falling to Snake Island and finishing seventh overall.
Thorpe broke down the highlights and themes he observed at LAXNAI.
USA Lacrosse named the 66-player tryout pool for the U.S. Men’s Box National Team prior to the first of two weekends in Utica.
The list included plenty of household box names like Tom Schreiber, Trevor Baptiste, Joe Resetarits and others. Also included in the tryout pool were players trying to make NLL rosters for the 2023-24 season — talents that Thorpe believes could be of use to teams and ones that could be developed for the U.S. come 2024.
“If you’re in NLL or Senior B or Senior A or down here playing American box, we want to take the best team,” Thorpe said. “You’d love to have NLL guys, but you want to take the best guys that fit your system. I was happy with some of those guys that are hungry that aren’t in the NLL yet.”
As for the NLL pros that represented the U.S., Thorpe said he thought they did a great job of working within the U.S. system. Many of the more experienced NLL players, like John Ranagan and Tim Edwards, were vocal in leading the less experienced ones through drills and offensive concepts.
Thorpe welcomed a few NLL stalwarts to the tryout pool that live in Canada but have either dual citizenship or a family connection to the U.S.
Some of the U.S.-Canadian dual nationals played major roles on USA Blue and USA White over the weekend. Most notably, Dylan Robinson (Buffalo Bandits) and Bobby Kidd (Saskatchewan Rush) helped bolster the defense and kickstart transition for USA White and USA Blue, respectively.
In addition, Drew Hutchinson (Halifax Thunderbirds) allowed six goals in four games played for USA Blue.
“We were really happy with some of the guys that reached out to us and we did research on,” Thorpe said. “Not only were they born in the U.S., but they also have dual citizenship. We want to take full advantage of that. I was really happy with the buy-in from them and how much the guys respected each other and their backgrounds.”
Alex Buque (Saskatchewan Rush) is also in the tryout pool, but he missed the training weekends due to injury.
CANADIAN SUMMER FOR COLLEGE STARS
CJ Kirst and Joey Spallina arrived in Utica as two of college lacrosse’s brightest young stars, each wowing field fans in Upstate New York.
Each made a commitment to sharpening his skills in the box this summer. Kirst and Spallina spent what would normally be their offseason playing in the Junior A circuit in Canada, scoring in bunches along with the best young talents in the box game. Spallina finished with 50 goals and 98 assists for the Orangeville Northmen, while Kirst tallied 29 goals and 33 assists for the Mimico Mountaineers.
It became clear during the first training weekend that both were in form and could hold their own with established NLL stars and box veterans. Kirst’s 10 goals led USA White, while Spallina’s 16 points were a team high.
“They can work with the ball and can work off ball,” Thorpe said. “I was really happy with their lacrosse IQ and how they morphed to Coach [Brian] Hobart and Coach Roy Colsey’s system. It’s a huge commitment [to play box in the summer], having done it myself, but if you want to be the best lacrosse player in the country, playing box is only going to help that.”
Another college standout at LAXNAI was Palo Alto, Calif., native and Virginia junior Patrick McIntosh. Despite not playing box lacrosse at the Junior or Senior levels in Canada, he impressed the coaching staff, finishing with four goals and six assists for USA White, including two assists in the championship game.
“He had an unbelievable couple weekends,” Thorpe said. “He doesn’t have a ton of North-of-the-Border experience, but he showed some real flashes.”
TIM EDWARDS’ COMMITMENT
Tim Edwards has put together one of the most grueling years of any lacrosse player in America — and he’s still going.
He spent the entire winter and spring contributing for the Colorado Mammoth, where he had 11 assists and won 62 percent of his faceoffs en route to an NLL Finals appearance. He dropped three goals and an assist in Colorado’s playoff run.
Shortly after the NLL season wrapped, he made the trip to Six Nations to begin his summer of Senior A with the Chiefs. He dropped nine points while contributing on offense and defense for the Chiefs, who took home the Mann Cup on September 14.
Just two weeks later, he suited up for the U.S. at training camp and played a leading role in transition and on faceoffs during LAXNAI. As one of the NLL veterans who committed their time to training with the U.S., Edwards caught the eye of Thorpe and his coaching staff.
“He’s coming off a 6.5-month NLL season topped off with a three-month season with the Chiefs — coming off nine months of lacrosse and he was there both weekends being Timmy Edwards,” Thorpe said. “He really leads by example on and off the field. I was proud that he made the commitment.”