Emotional. The simplest way to describe the contest.
Support crews on both sidelines stayed standing, belting out chants for their respective sides. Coaches turned away from the field to shield their eyes and their stress from the benches. The players, on the other hand, had no chance of reeling it in. Each separating goal would erupt the Hong Kong bench as Poland responded with screams in frustration.
While the Polish never really lost their cool until the final horn sounded, it was the level-headed nature of the Hong Kong staff that kept their team from going too high, or too low, to stick to the plan and seal the deal, 9-7.
“I don’t necessarily feel quite so calm on the sidelines and we certainly had some substitution problems. It may look calm but it’s not always calm, we have some work we need to clean up.” Coach Scott Browning reflected on their ability to keep cool.
Poland versus Hong Kong was one of our most anticipated showdowns of the entire 2018 World Championships. Our crew at LaxAllStars.com has grown close to both programs, spending time in country with each. This game was guaranteed to be a know-down drag-out war, as both teams have been grinding to drive themselves to the top of the lacrosse world non-stop since Denver.
The first half was jam-packed with back and forth runs, showing off speed, team play, and grit from the two squads in red and white. The second half narrative started to change a bit for Poland. It tough to judge the perspective of the officials, but it was clear that when the whistle happened to blow, it was typically turning up Hong Kong. Little things, like a missing end cap, were being held against Poland, while Coach Browning and the Hong Kongers stayed level and committed to their plan.
When the Polish could execute a well-timed double team, or goalie Christian Dzwilewski robbing Hong Kong of another attempt, it was the clearing issues that really shot them in the foot. If HK could get the ball on the ground, it was coming back up in their pockets. Possessions for Hong Kong meant getting the rock around the horn for minutes at a time, chipping away at the clock, methodically working toward the cage when the matchups allowed.
But that’s the funny thing about Hong Kong, they’re nearly impossible to find those matchups with as their depth chart and skillset is nearly uniform across every athlete. Speed, talent, and abilities seem identical for the majority of the roster, as the program all nearly started playing at the same time and are involved in practice 3-5 days a week.
Poland has their stars, but the balance between ego and winning the game for their team seemed to get in the way of a full game. The issues came in those 50/50 plays, including on the face-off. Even if the ball would be ripped out by Poland, Hong Kong was seeking out the loose balls with laser-focus. If they did get it, it was a quick iso to the goal, typically ending with a shot directly into goaltender Lai Yen Fung. Long possession time by the Hong Kong offense would have been detrimental to any team, sometimes keeping Poland’s defense exhausted for four minute offensive sets, or longer.
When the ball wasn’t bouncing Poland’s way, they still kept their heads down and stayed focused on the plan. Unfortunately for them, luck kept coming to Hong Kong. When the horn sounded to close the game, the poise disappeared. Emotions ran hot from the Polish as they spiked their gear and let their screams of frustration out into the universe. They left it all on the field, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Hong Kong consistency from top to bottom.
“These guys just did a fantastic job, it’s incredible to see…” Browning’s voice trailed off and face puckered, on the edge with emotion and tears. You could feel the pride their Coach had in their efforts and teamwork if you couldn’t see it welling in his eyes.
Walking back to campus with the Polish coaching staff, we rapped off the record about the calls against them, their clearing malfunctions, and the rollercoaster of emotions the bench went through.
If they could get Hong Kong again, they’d take the game 10 out of 10 times. While injuries have plagued the national roster recently and the country pulling players from a massive land mass with limited time available, the staff refused to recognize that as a fault for the loss. Hong Kong is about the size of Poland’s capital city metro area, making it much easier to train as a whole, but Poland still felt well prepared for the battle.
Getting the hard end of the the World Championships realignment, the teams fell into the solo group with four teams, instead of three, forcing them to play one extra game.
While both tried to spin it as more lacrosse to play, no off day and an extra contest is taxing on any team. Poland refuses to treat to loss as a death sentence, but they don’t have long to shake it off to make a run up the ladder.