Editor’s Note: It’s time! The 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championships are here and we are in full-blown international lax mode. Content from around the world will be flowing all day and all night right here on LaxAllStars.com and we’re going to kick off Day 1 here in Israel with an article written by the Poland National Team goalie, Christian Dzwilewski, about how the Polish have been preparing for the largest Championships in history. Here’s we go…
Lacrosse in Poland has come a long way since the first-ever National Team participated in the 2010 World Championships in Manchester, UK. Having been a player for the 2010 & 2014 World Championships and 2016 European Championships, I have had the opportunity to witness and contribute to the prolific growth over the last 8 years. Before I got there, like many programs in Europe, lacrosse in Poland first started rearing its head in the second half of the 2000’s. Poland saw its first teams in the Poznan Hussars and Kosynierzy Wrocław.
The Hussars were founded by Błażej Piotrowski who saw glimpses of the game while on holiday in the USA, and Kosynierzy Wrocław was founded by Tomasz Kędzia, who brought the game back to his city after an internship in the Czech Republic. The two paired up with former Head Coach, Christian Zwickert to form the first-ever Polish National Team for the 2010 World Championships in Manchester, UK. Lacrosse took off from that point forward.
To understand where the program is now, it is imperative to understand what took place in the years prior. Like many programs in the early stages, out-of-country players and coaches were brought in to teach and play.
The 2010 and 2014 World Championships were prime examples of this.
We had great players and coaches from both teams, but it was a challenge to have true cohesiveness on-and-off the field due to the distance. Blazej Rokicki, a player on both World Championship teams took the reigns going forward. A new strategy would be implemented; he made a decision to focus on local growth and development from the Polish pool of players. The idea was that rather than having a bunch of guys playing together for a few weeks, the best strategy would be to form a core group of guys that could become a family. International players now had to earn their position on the 23-man roster.
A series of requirements were set-forth that entailed staying in Poland for several weeks, coaching youth players, attending tournaments, possessing skill and most importantly, having the right character.
This strategy would be tested in the build-up to and for the 2016 European Championships in Godollo, Hungary. Only three international players would be selected.
The concept certainly worked.
I have played for many teams, but I have never bonded with any others like I had with the ‘16 EC team – no disrespect. For the first time, we actually felt that this was the Polish National Team and not just some guys mixed together to play in a tournament. Mastering the so-called “slav squat” became integral to whether you could be trusted or not. You basically have to squat in a position to which your heels are on the ground and your arms rest on your knees. Technically I’m still a Western spy because I can’t keep my heels on the ground without falling. The squat was perfected throughout the city of Budapest as we visited castles, went to the local bathhouses and asked any and every girl “how ya doin” in a Brooklyn accent. The sense of brotherhood perpetuated onto the field as we played tight matches against Sweden and Finland, and almost upset the prior #3 in Europe, Netherlands. Although we didn’t quite get the results we wanted on the scoreboard, we knew we were building something great.
Since the 2016 European Championships, and in preparation for the 2018 World Championships, several major contributions have really propelled the Poland Lacrosse brand onto the World stage. We can definitely thank social media for this, but it’s the guys on the inner circle that have been the driving force:
Players such as Jan Rydzak, Daniel Smaza and Ryszard “Rico” Matkowski of Kosynierzy Wroclaw have been running a U-15 team and using their free time to teach grade schoolers. Rydzak and Smaza also formed LaxSkills, a lacrosse academy where they teach coaches and players, record tutorial videos and help recruit for local club teams. Paired with the annual summer Coal Camp led by Blazej Rokicki, they have been able to attract new players, receive equipment donations and generate a source of cash flow. It has been a major step to the advancement of the game in Poland. Additionally, HSBC has stepped up to the plate to become our premiere sponsor, providing the necessary funds imperative for travel, accommodation and equipment provided by Powell Lacrosse.
Furthermore, in our efforts to raise funds for the 2018 World Championships in Netanya, Israel, Head Coach Kyle Plumly, Bobby Krill and myself formed the Poland Lacrosse Foundation. This is a multi-faceted non-profit focused on providing the resources necessary to support the Men’s and Women’s National Teams and the ultimate growth of the sport in Poland. In doing so, we formed the first-ever Poland Heritage Team, which serves to bridge the international gap while bringing those with Polish ancestry closer to their roots.
The biggest initiative to-date was the formation of the Polish Heritage Team, which debuted in the 2018 Heritage Cup held in Providence, RI alongside the NCAA Championships. It was a special event for the guys involved being able to represent their heritage, for the future of the Poland Lacrosse brand and for me personally.. I was able to anchor the defense alongside my dad. Going forward, we will utilize this pool of players as a funnel and evaluation system for international tournaments with the Polish National team. The goal is to also get these guys over to Poland to coach and enjoy the culture. For further information, we can be found at www.PolandLacrosse.org where we have an online store and registration links for our various involvement opportunities.
As the 2018 World Championships near, the blueprint has remained steady: keeping the same core group of guys who have played together over the last 2 ½ years. Some younger guys will be stepping into leadership roles on both offense and defense. Leading the offense is young Mikolaj Smigiel, a guy that we believe can play at the Division I level. Defensively, Adam Tymorek and Marcin Tracz – both fast, strong and tough – will be joining a veteran defense. Wanting to remain true to the blueprint, only three Americans will included in the 23-man roster.
In comparing the 2014 team to the 2018 team, I firmly believe that although we won’t have much North American representation, we are a better team because we are a closer team. For the first time, we believe this group will truly represent the actual skill level in Poland. Overall, expect a smarter, faster, tougher Polish Team determined to win every game we play.