On Saturday, Cornell lefty C.J. Kirst scored five goals to lead the United States past Canada 12-10 to win the 2022 World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship in Limerick, Ireland. It was the ninth men’s world championship for the U.S. at the junior level, dating back to 1988. Canada dropped its seventh final.
The USA and Canada national teams are light years ahead of their counterparts. Canada beat Australia 19-1 in the semifinals and the USA defeated the Haudenosaunee 10-2. That’s alarming dominance. I find the absence of parity in international lacrosse to be concerning as the Olympic movement gains steam. 23 nations competed in Ireland. The reality is that only three things could have beaten Team USA. COVID-19, Canada or themselves. That is the avoidance of a self-centered mindset.
This final played on the Emerald Isle, between heated rivals, lived up to the hype. It was televised live on ESPNU.
The USA team got a stellar and MVP performance from Kirst, who’s damage surprisingly came off-ball in four of five instances. He was a late addition to the roster, after catching the eye of Ohio State and USA coach Nick Myers by scoring seven goals against the Buckeyes in the NCAA tournament first round game in Ithaca.
Notre Dame attackman Pat Kavanagh, after missing some time earlier in the two-week event, was his usual active and energetic self. Brennan O’neil was difficult to miss, barreling his way to pay dirt, zig-zagging and slashing his way through the defense. The trio combined for 9 of the USA’s 12 goals.
I thought the most impactful player on Saturday was Duke defender Kenny Brower, who’s disruptive play-making on the defensive end were eye-catching. Brower has started 42 games at Duke and is battle tested against the best in the business. The Massapequa native is fundamentally sound, disciplined in his approaches, and plays with grit. His work on catalyst Ross Scott (Rutgers) of Oregon and Canada made a big difference in this outcome.
The United States never trailed in the final, but Canada cut the lead to one twice, including making it 11-10 with 2:16 left to play in the game. Duke FOGO Jake Naso (Duke) won the ensuing faceoff and Patrick Kavanaugh (ND) scored an empty net goal to put the game out of reach.
Canada received an A+ performance from Albany midfielder Graydon Hogg, a smooth and twitchy lefty who can play attack but did his damage with long dodges from the box as a midfielder against a shorty. Hogg had 48 points for the Great Danes and is a natural leader. The USA poled monstrous midfielder Thomas McConvey (UVA) and limited his touches after he demolished lesser rivals in games prior. Lefty attackman Owen Hiltz delivered a clutch game with two goals in the second half. Hiltz has healed from an upper body injury that robbed him of a spring at Syracuse in 2022. He showed passing acumen all event but was more intent on getting to the goal in the championship game, scoring twice in the second half.
FOGO Bo Columbus (ROMO), after a dismal showing in the USA round robin game exhibited remarkable improvement under the tutelage of Geoff Snider. The ROMO faceoff specialist tied up Jake Naso and Alex Stathakis (Denver) and made it a six man scrum. Team Canada’s best two players on Saturday were poles Levi Verch (St Joe’s) and Michael Grace (RIT). These two were everywhere, scooping up grounders, covering their men and leading transition. Each scored a goal.
Too many turnovers in the face of no shot clock cost Canada a chance to rewrite history. I spoke with USA assistant coach Ron Caputo (Duke) late on Saturday night from the victory celebration.
“The draw man (Columbus) countered well and forced poor exit control,” he said. “Their wings were long and disruptive.”
The USA defense held Canada to just two assist on ten goals. It appeared as if the US defenders were hesitant to slide, trusting their match-ups.
“Brower was terrific,” said Caputo. “We were supposed to support. We were trying to force ball carriers down the alley, and force the sweep outside from the wing and GLE. Guys got consumed with their men off-ball.”
That can happen in meaningful games, when a defender doesn’t want his man to score a critical goal. In stressful game situations, ego isn’t your amigo. The intensity, physicality and skill level was great to watch. This is a special rivalry. The game is archived on ESPN+ in case you missed it.
“These “forever” games are so strange,” Caputo noted. “So many errors, so many poor decisions. One goal better than the other guy and I’m at a celebration you would love to be at.”
It was a two-goal margin but otherwise true.
The 12-10 result is now etched in the trophy. Two things resonating with me, calling this event from my home studio.
1) The USA team competed. They played hard. They fought. They battled.
2) USA played as a team. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. That’s a credit to the players and staff. The more energy you put into a bond, the harder it is to break.
This was a together win in a forever game.
“This was a really special group of men,” said USA head coach Nick Myers. “A group of high character and competent young men!”
Don’t let the high stakes rob you of the joy that comes from playing lacrosse and being around great people. Being a part of an event like the 2022 World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship is meant to be fun. CJ Kirst and Pat Kavangh were without question having fun. Have mindfulness. With a lot going on, stay in the moment.
Brennan O’Neil and Kenny Brower were locked in. You could see it. Focus on the daily process. Be grateful for the opportunity to wear the colors of your nation. Let yourself be enveloped by compassion. It’s always right to show how much you care.
Watching the USA goal celebrations and huddles during timeouts you could see that Team USA was engaged and connected. It’s okay to compete. We keep score for a reason. There are winners and losers.
Myers was supported by his brother Pat (Lafayette), Stan Ross (Oxbridge Academy), Andrew Stimmel (Marquette) and Ron Caputo (Duke). “We had lots of fun coaching. It was an incredible experience,” he said before boarding a plane to get back to Columbus, Ohio to welcome his Buckeye team to school. Win with people. “Incredible group of men and staff, that came together and got it done. We’re exhausted but coming back home with gold.”
USA played with a competitive fire. They won again and that’s forever.
From 1988 through 2016 this championship used the U19 age grouping. World Lacrosse has since reclassified it to a U20 championship moving forward. The 2022 event was given a one-time age exemption to U21 due to postponements from the global pandemic.
2022 World Lacrosse Men’s U21 Championship FINAL STANDINGS
1. United States
8. Puerto Rico
11. Czech Republic
14. Hong Kong, China
23. Chinese Taipei