By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/4/14
Mesa Fresh 2016 claimed the Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions title in the Rising Stars Division Tuesday with a 9-3 conquest of Long Island’s Checkmate Sharks.
But it was Mesa’s 14-11 semifinal thriller over Six Nations Thunder Tribe of Ontario, Canada that served as its biggest test and perhaps its greatest accomplishment of the tourney.
Coming into play, Mesa Fresh was a major tourney contender. Mesa teams had won the titles in 2011 (Mesa Fresh 2014) and 2012 (Mesa Fresh 2015) and this Mesa team has more than 12 Division I commits and both depth and balance at every position.
Mesa Fresh cruised through pool play and earned a top seed for the playoffs. But in the semis, it faced a physical and skilled Six Nations team of Native American players that bolted to a 4-1 lead.
“We heard about the 2015 and 2014 Mesa teams and how great they played to win the Dick’s championships, so we talked about the big shoes we had to fill,” said Mesa 2016 defenseman Patrick Lyons (Salesianum School, committed to North Carolina). “But we didn’t know what to expect from the Canadian and Iroquois teams. They played a different type of game.
“Six Nations was one of the best (teams) we have faced. They were very competitive and very physical and in the beginning we tried to match their physicality and ended up getting penalties.”
Six Nations tried everything to overcome Mesa Fresh, and even successfully worked the hidden ball trick. Two of its goals deflected off Mesa defensemen and it took advantage early of its offensive firepower.
But Mesa Fresh’s depth and poise began to wear down its foe, which had only several subs.
“I thought we adjust really well,” said Lyons. “We were rushing things in the beginning. The calls weren’t going our way and it seemed like they got away with things we couldn’t. But the team struck together. One thing about Mesa Fresh is that we know when we make a mistake, another guy is there to pick you up.”
Lyons said assistant coach Adam Mueller, a longtime NLL coach, was a key in helping guide the Mesa players in their adjustments vs. the Canadian teams.
“I was glad we went down and had this experience; learning the way the Iroquois and Canadians play the game,” Lyons said. “Kids my age and younger have to learn to play against them. More and more Canadian players are coming down to play at US colleges.”
Lyons said playing with Mesa Fresh 2016 has been a special experience. He made an interesting point, noting that the early recruiting has actually helped this team remain close. And Mesa Fresh has always preached its “We-Ball” as opposed to “Me-Ball” mentality.
“I know that many people feel early recruiting is bad and that kids can get lazy (after they commit),” he said. “But it’s the opposite with this group. We have gotten so much better. I have never seen a group of kids that just want to win as bad as anything else.
“Because many of us have committed we don’t need to impress anyone. We just want to make the right play and win for the team.
“The Mesa team is all a special group. The coaches preach family; we have a confidence, not a cockiness. After we got down, 4-1 it was shocking. But it really was a testament to our competitiveness and stick-to-it-of-ness, or heart, that we battled back and played our game. Credit the coaches for keeping us level headed and calm.”
Other comments from Mesa Fresh players:
Attackman Forry Smith (Haverford School attackman, Johns Hopkins commit), who was named the Championship Game MVP with four goals and two assists: “Coach Mueller is a great box coach and he gave us insights on how to play (against Six Nations). What caught us off guard was their transition; not middie to attack, but seeing their D-poles move it to their attack.
“We had to adjust to their speed. They moved the ball quicker because of their box experience. They also were very physical.
“But everyone on our team buys into the offensive and defensive schemes. The coaches always tell us that if we are playing like a team, the recruiters will come. The guys are not about getting goals and assists; they are about winning. I think that’s why we are so successful. We have bonded together on the field. It’s like a big family.”
Tyler Will (Haverford School midfielder, Penn State commit):
“The pressure going in wasn’t too bad because we always play as a team so we took it as justanother tournament. Six Nations was a very talented team, but we came together.
“They certainly had a style of play we never really had encountered before. They had an amazing left-handed attackman. We had to adjust our defensive mindset and our game-plan to stop him and some others. But we used our athleticism. They didn’t like to run; and we were able to use our whole team so it was hard for them to keep up with use since they only had a few subs.
“The championship game was certainly, by no means, an easy game. We came out strong and confident coming off the win over the talented Six Nations team. We got ahead and converted some chances and that got us on the right foot. I think we played on all cylinders and played our best lacrosse.”