Australian World Indoor Lacrosse Team Announced
Two players from Melbourne's International game go head to head
There are 150 days till the 2011 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, May 21-28 in Prague, and I'll be bringing you updates on all things WILC-related as we creep closer to the opening games.
Today, IL Indoor is pleased to share the exclusive announcement of Australia's team for the tournament. Now, before you dismiss the Aussies as non-contenders, bear in mind that just because nobody but Canada, the Iroquois and the U.S. win medals at the WILC doesn't mean the tournament is a three-team deal. See what we mean, as well as the Aussie roster, after the jump.
The second tier of countries includes Scotland, England and Australia, and those three teams fight fiercely among themselves for fourth place (Ireland and the Czech Republic have yet to win a game at the tournament).
Australian head coach Ric Benedierks is determined that his team will compete for top spot among that second group of teams. "We don't want to spend $300,000 to go there to finish fifth or sixth," he says.
Sixth is exactly where they finished last time after dropping a quarter-final to England, 15-11, in which, Benedierks says with a rueful chuckle, "bloody Lewis Ratcliff was on every point; he either assisted or scored and came out of the game with 14 points. It drove me mad." If only Rhys Duch had been born down under!
But the lack of a star player eligible to suit up for Aus is only one of the challenges the country faces. They don't have an indoor lacrosse facility. That's right, not one, and that doesn't mean there aren't lacrosse-only facilities, like the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena in Six Nations. That means nothing that suits the game: no hockey rinks, nothing where they don't have to tape a crease onto the floor to play.
There are some outdoor venues they can use, but spring rains make leagues tough to keep on schedule. So any Australians who have played the game beyond the most rudimentary level have gone to North America to do it, such as Gordon Purdie. Purdie played 13 years and 118 games in the NLL, primarily with the old New York Saints. He was once named the most valuable midfielder in the world and captained the '07 WILC team, and he brings skill and experience to this year's club. He's also 45 years old.
In fact, this is not a young team. The average age of the 32 players announced to go to Prague is 32 and only six are younger than 25. Benedierks hopes that the players who go to the worlds can come back to Australia and help spread the game to people. That's a real challenge when your best players have to go overseas.
Tim Fry also hit the NLL, though just for a cup of coffee. Travis Croll and assistant captain Chris De Mello played Sr. B lacrosse in B.C. The other assistant captain, Keith Nyberg, was a three-year captain and two-time All-American at Limestone College and tried out with the Roughnecks a few years ago. D-man Adam Smith played five years of Jr. A and six years of Sr. A in B.C. and last year got into four games in B.C.'s Sr B loop.
That's almost it for box play outside Australia. But one thing you can always count on from Australian players is they'll be tough, in-your-face and ready to play hard.
Given its nature as an outdoors kind of country, Australia has had greater experience and success on the field. They've won bronze medals at the last four world field championships and have three silvers all-time. But transferring those field skills to the box is always a challenge, as the U.S. has seen.
The growing success of U.S. field players transitioning to the NLL, though, provides optimism to the Aussies.
Given that 14 of those on the 32-man roster played in the '07 worlds and six of those played in '03 as well, the transition is happening. But half a dozen games every four years don't drive players up the learning curve.
As Nyberg says, "One of the challenges for Australia at World Championships, both field and indoor, is having quality competition to practice against. We are a long way from every other lacrosse competition, and just don't have the player base here to have the type of quality practice games you require to compete effectively at international level."
To that end, Benedierks is letting everyone know Australia will be arriving in Prague a week early for the worlds, and they'll be keen to get some practice games in. That can help, but four of the squad members got a special opportunity to play with the best in the world at the NLL All-Star Series in Melbourne, in October of 2009.
Nyberg, Fry, Darren Nicholas and Jake Egan, who was 21 at the time, suited up with the North Americans and it was a valuable learning experience. As Nyberg says, "Being on the same team as superstars like Gary Gait, John Grant Jr., Mark Steenhuis, and the nicest bad guy in lacrosse - Geoff Snider - is definitely a memorable experience, but seeing what they do on the field up close just helps you to take your game up a notch as you watch and learn."
"It's the little things they do - that probably most spectators don't even notice - which make them such great players," Nyberg continues. "Until you've seen that up close, it's hard to understand how they do it, and hard to learn how to do it yourself. I've played against most of these guys before in World Championships, but to play with them is a completely different perspective."
The pros enjoyed themselves, too, as you can see from some of their blog entries. But it meant a lot more than fun to the Aussies. Fry says that experience, along with the previous worlds and help from folks like assistant coach Rob MacDougall, who coaches minor lacrosse in Oakville, make this "the best team to come out of Australia. We have some exciting young players like Marty Hyde, Jake Egan and Caleb Hall but importantly we have some of the veterans such as Damien Cliffe, Cam Mclaughlan and the god father of Australian lacrosse, Gordon Purdie."
Speaking of more than fun, the enthusiastic crowd at the All-Star games got to see Nyberg drop the gloves, with fellow Aussie Wes Green, no less. But that tussle aside, the Aussies are pulling together even though, with players spread all over their huge country, they have been together as a group only once - at a selection camp in November - and probably won't spend much time all together until they head to Prague.
Make no mistake, though. This is a team. The players' dedication to the squad is evidenced by the remarkable fact that everyone involved in the process - all 50-plus players who applied and went to the November camp - agreed to a system in which 30 of the 32 players listed below will travel to the Czech Republic a week ahead of the worlds, and the final roster of 24 will be announced just before the first game, even though they are all footing their own bill.
Benedierks figures a couple of guys will inevitably have to drop out of consideration because of work or financial concerns, but this way he'll be able to select the 24 men he believes give Australia the best chance to reach the bronze-medal game based on their form as the tournament dawns. Every coach wants players who buy into his system. Benedierks has a throng of them who have done so enthusiastically, and literally.
Australian WILC travel squad 2011 (listed with home club team in parentheses)
Wade Hammond (Captain, Eltham)
Damien Cliffe (Altona)
Travis Croll (Malvern)
Ryan Gaspari (North Adelaide)
Marty Hyde (MCC)
Jeff Joy (Malvern)
Jerome Kirkwood (Sturt)
Dylan MacDougall (Goulburn)
Rod Maher (Altona)
Nigel Wapper (Sturt)
Jesse Whinnen (Woodville)
Jake Egan (MCC)
Travis Gathercole (Camberwell)
Caleb Hall (Eltham)
Clinton Lander (Camberwell)
Cameron McLachlan (Surrey Park)
Daniel Mentiplay (MCC)
Darren Nicholas (Williamstown)
Gordon Purdie (Chadstone)
Ryan Stone (Sturt)
Keith Nyberg (Assistant Captain, Eltham)
Chris De Mello (Assistant Captain, Sturt)
Anthony Feleppa (Woodville)
Tim Fry (Eltham)
Sam Kilford (North Adelaide)
Patrick McGrath-Campbell (Malvern)
Adam Smith (Sydney)
Anthony Munro (Burnside)
Frank Nicholas (Sydney)
Dwayne Edwards (West Torrens)
Aaron Machner (Brisbane)
Bill Martin (Altona)
Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer.