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USA U20 coach Shawn Nadelen with a defenseman at national team tryouts Friday

USA U20 Coaches Eyeing Smart Players with IQ to Match Effort

June 29, 2024
Jake Epstein
USA Lacrosse

SPARKS, Md. — During an uncharacteristically gray Saturday morning session at Tierney Field, 77 of the nation’s premier prospects competed in the second day of the U.S. Men’s U20 National Team tryouts.

“It’s been really exciting to watch these guys coming in the first session and feeling it out, then get more comfortable and confident in what they’re doing,” head coach Shawn Nadelen said. “Some guys have that confidence right away, [and] others have grown into it.”

While the players’ helmets represented a fusion of collegiate, high school and club powerhouses, each invitee entered the three-day tryout period with a common goal — earning a place on the U20 training team.

The field will eventually be narrowed down to the roster representing the United States at next summer’s world championship in Seogwipo, South Korea from Aug. 14-25, 2025. The U.S. has secured gold at the previous nine junior world championships, including a 12-10 gold-medal-game victory over Canada in Ireland’s 2022 COVID-postponed event.

“These guys are out here pouring their hearts into it,” Nadelen said. “They’re giving everything they have to advance in the process and we wouldn’t expect anything different.”

Assistant coach Ryan McClay said he and his fellow staff members have invited and received the “best of the best” at this age group, but the challenge now lies in assembling a cohesive unit.

“We’re looking to put together the best team,” McClay said. “This isn’t an all-star team. Guys have to buy in, accept and excel at the roles we find for them. We’re looking for players that are willing to do that, willing to pick each other up.”

McClay, a gold medalist with the U.S. men’s team in 2002 and 2010, said the coaching staff told the players to make the selection process difficult in the opening meeting.

Thus far, they’ve more than met their end of the bargain, McClay said.

“[The talent level] is off the charts, and that’s the difference between good players and great players,” McClay said. “We wanted the great players here, and the goalies are making the offensive guys work. Defensively, we’ve got some big, strong, athletic guys that are working well together.”

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Although Team USA’s shot at a 10th consecutive junior world championship stands more than a year away, Nadelen said tryouts have proven a pivotal first step in assimilating players into international play’s nuances.

The group incorporated referees into its sessions to further immerse itself into international competition’s ebbs and flows.

“You’re going overseas, playing in an environment where you have multiple games in a very short timeframe,” Nadelen said. “You need guys that step on the field and compete — put everything they have into every rep.”

A defenseman on the 2010 U.S. men’s team that won the world championship in Manchester, England, Nadelen said he jumped at the chance to apply for the current coaching cycle.

For the Towson head coach, donning the red, white and blue as a player significantly enhanced his passion for the game. No, he has the opportunity to watch the next generation trod a similar path.

“The pinnacle of the sport is being able to serve your country — whether it be as a player, staff member or a coach,” Nadelen said. “It’s really an amazing opportunity.”

While Nadelen said he and his staff were highly impressed with the collective intensity from the tryout’s onset, he added that a crucial evaluation element lies in the players’ on-field IQ.

“Being able to play smart while you’re playing as hard as you can is another layer to it because the international games are a very different pace of play,” Nadelen said. “You have to be very cerebral while you’re also trying to play at a very high level. For us, a high IQ to go along with that skill and ability to play at an elite level is the combination we’re looking for.”

The coaching staff emphasized attacking freedom and defensive focus with no shot clock in international competition. As the sessions have progressed, a once-frenetic tempo molded into a more methodical approach, Nadelen said.

With a “once in a lifetime” chance in front of the players, Nadelen said the group continues to push one another to find consistent improvement.

“You really only get one shot at a team like this,” Nadelen said. “[In] box, sixes and the senior national team, you can be on those multiple times if you’re fortunate enough and good enough. You only get one shot at a U20 team, so it’s pretty special to see what these guys are putting on the field.”