To show you a bit more of what the life of a Spanish National Lacrosse Team player is like, we are taking you on a day-to-day journey of our trip to the Nick Kehoe International tournament in Manchester, England. This tournament is a weekend tournament that gathers some of the best regional teams in the UK and Europe and is hosted by the Wilmslow Lacrosse Club.
For the Spain Lacrosse boys this is an official tryout for the European Championships in Poland in 2020, so the stakes were as high as ever.
READ MORE: Check out our last article on what it’s like playing club lacrosse in Spain here.
Life As A Spanish National Lacrosse Team Player
Day 1 – Thursday
With one of these long lacrosse weekends, it is always advisable to arrive nice and early. Most of the guys left for Manchester on Thursday in order to be ready when training started on Friday morning. With no official transportation, Ryanair flights and rented cars are the order of the day for the Spanish National Lacrosse Team players.
With the team coming from all over Spain, the boys showed up little by little, with a big group from Madrid and Barcelona meeting for dinner at a classic British pub (shoutout to the very aptly named Bulls Head for a bunch of Spaniards). After that, it was time to head back to the hostel for a good night’s rest before the start of our training day on Friday. Most of the guys try to stay at the same place for logistical purposes. The lodging, which in this occasion was better than a hole in the ground with a bedsheet on top of it (which can’t be said for all our previous experiences). Of course, as soon as they arrived, the boys had to conquer the hostel for the great nation of Spain.
Day 2 – Friday
Friday started off bright and early at 8:00 a.m. (we’re Spanish, give us a break), with a nice breakfast in the shared kitchen. We then took turns to head to the fields in the two rented cars that had been very kindly offered by Wilmslow Lacrosse club.
Training started at 12:00 p.m. after an initial team meeting with head coach Mike Bartlett and assistant coach Ravi “Baggie” Sitlani regarding goals and strategy for the weekend. The Spanish National Lacrosse Team is a merry bunch but when the gloves and the jersey come on it’s business time.
This was not our first time in Manchester. As in previous occasions, we were lucky to have some of the best players in the north of England come and coach with mainstays Mike and Baggie. This time, Jak Wawrzyniak (Providence alumni and England lacrosse player) came to help with the defense and Josh Jenkins (Norwich University) and Eric Russo (JWU) came to help with the offense. Of course, a Spain lacrosse training camp would not be complete without a visit from England goalkeeper Will Baxter.
Training sessions with the national team are always intense, both for rookies trying to impress the coach and for long-time players who want to keep their spot in the 23-man roster that will go to Poland. The morning consisted of a three-hour session, starting with the Spain national lacrosse team favorite game: West Genies. This is a 3-v-2 up and down game, and finishing with work on individual skills both offensively and defensively.
After a break for lunch from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. — again, we’re Spanish — the boys got back at it for an afternoon session, this time more focused on working on the few motions and strategies we were going to implement over the weekend and on the man-up and man-down moves.
At 6.30 p.m., the guys finished the training session and after a nice shower, had a few pizzas and drinks at the Wimslow lacrosse club house and opened the first session of the Spain National Lacrosse team fine court, the “Tribunal de los Toros” (The Bulls Court), the details of which I will not divulge.
At this point the few remaining stragglers who hadn’t managed to take time off work on Friday arrived to Manchester nice and fresh, not having gone through almost six hours of grueling training sessions.
After a few drinks and conversation at the clubhouse it was time to go back to our hostel, rest up and get ready for the start of the real tournament on Saturday.
Day 3 – Saturday
The Nick Kehoe International is a very old tournament celebrated in England that used to consist of regional teams from different parts of England competing against each other. However, in recent years they started inviting international team, resulting in the Spanish team attending the past few years.
The tournament is now formed by a Round Robin of three groups with four teams, in which everyone plays each other. The top two teams in each group then play two games against the other finishers (basically creating two groups of 6 teams). Depending on the results of these two games, the teams are placed in one of three divisions, according to their results.
In the round robin, Spain drew South of England, English Universities (an all-star team of English university students) and Wales Dragons (the Wales development team).
In the first game against Wales, Spain come out firing, scoring three goals to start the game. One of them consisted of a wrap check during a ride followed by a ground ball and a 1-v-1 that rookie Antonio “Tote” Marquez put in the back of the net. Despite Wales scoring one to get closer, Spain closed the game in the second half (games in the Round Robin consisted of two halves of 12 minutes) with two goals, closing the first game with a 5-1 win.
After Wales, it was straight on to play the South of England, one of the favorites to win the tournament. The boys did not play well against a team who were bigger, more experienced and more physical and lost 10-1. Despite the setback, Spain was still aiming for the second spot in the group. The only thing standing in their way was the English Universities squad.
This game was a real test for the boys, competing against guys that have played at a very high level for a long time. But, the boys muscled out a 3-2 win in an ugly gritty game with a fantastic performance from face off guy Javier Coca.
This result placed us second in the group. During the afternoon we would compete against the big boys, facing Scotland and South of England again for a place in the highest bracket. The first game was against Scotland where, despite playing a solid game, the Spanish National Lacrosse team lost to probably one of the top-four teams in the tournament, a team that played in the Blue Division in Israel against countries like USA or Canada. The second game of the afternoon didn’t go too well either, losing again against the South of England.
Despite the losses against some top quality competition, the results from the day were very positive and left Spain to play for the 2nd Division, the Plate. That night, the boys went back to the Bull’s Head for a lovely team dinner (when we like a joke we stick to it) and went to bed early to get a good night rest before the end of the tournament on Sunday.
Day 4 – Sunday:
Sunday started off very similar to Saturday, with an early wake-up call and a big breakfast before heading back out to Phoenix Sports Club for the final day of the Nick Kehoe International.
The first game was against the England U19 National team. This team was stacked with young — but very talented — guys and the Spaniards had a tough battle ahead of them. Despite starting off with the first goal of the game, the England U19 National team fought back with another two goals. Spain tied the game again, but some of the England U19 National team shooters would end up being too much, scoring another goal and securing the win, despite a fantastic performance from Spanish goalie Alejandro Ferri.
This loss was a disappointing one, but there was still one game to play in a fight for the 7th place. The results in 2019 were already way better than 2018, when the team finished 11th, but Spain Lacrosse wanted more. They would be fighting for this spot against a familiar foe, the Wales Dragons. Again, Spain came out firing, with a great game from midfielder-turned-attackman Fernando Martinez and a solid defensive effort. A continued effort in the second half showed was Spain was capable of doing, closing out the tournament with a win and a great 7th place at the Nick Kehoe International.
After the last game, we had a short team meeting to discuss the outcome of the weekend, with coaches Mike Bartlett and Baggie congratulating the boys on a good weekend but reminding them that there was a lot of work to be done for the next tournament in Prague.
After that, it was time to relax, have a few beers and cheer on our friends from the North West in the final against Yorkshire. Despite Yorkshire making it much closer than many people expected, the North West, led by the aforementioned Will Baxter and Jak Wawrzyniak, won the game and became the champions once again of the Nick Kehoe International tournament.
And that was it. The weekend was over and the boys headed back to the airport for the trip back to Spain already thinking about the next meeting.