As England’s head coach Doug Shanahan prepares his team for the upcoming 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship, he knows it will be a challenge.
England will compete in a pool with other top teams in the world: the United States, Canada, Australia and the Haudenosaunee. Each team in Pool A is guaranteed to advance to the playoff rounds, with the top two finishers receiving a bye to the quarterfinals.
The stiff competition right away has its positives and negatives, Shanahan explained.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “You really don’t get a chance to get in there and possibly build momentum as far as maybe getting an easy game, getting the cobwebs out from travel. It’s going to be tough right off the bat. The mental preparation is going to be key for sure.”
Of course, the possibility also exists for England to pick up a major win early in the tournament to build confidence. But if they struggle in pool play, they will have to face a team that has momentum on its side.
“It’s the strongest group there, so it means you’re playing the best competition, which is brilliant from our standpoint,” said Tom Bracegirdle, one of the players who is gearing up for his second senior men’s championship. “We get to play the best players in the world, which is ultimately what you want to go to a world championship to do. But equally, it does take a toll on the squad.”
Aware of the daunting road ahead in pool play, Shanahan and the team still have lofty expectations for the tournament, hoping they can play in a medal game one way or another.
“That’s common sense to us. Everyone wants to win a world championship. That’s everyone’s goal,” he said. “We want to give ourselves the best chance to be in any game that we play in against any competition. That’s why our number one goal is to put the best team forward to allow those things to happen.”
Shanahan is also sure to credit his coaching staff, including Mike Bartlett, Patrick Scarpello and Ben McAllister, for keeping operations running smoothly in the lead up to England’s first game against Australia on June 22. Shanahan lives in the United States, so he’s not always able to make it to team practices and events.
Bracegirdle said he and his teammates are already gearing up for what’s sure to be an exhausting first game. Whoever emerges with a win puts itself in strong positioning off the bat, and with challenging games to follow, securing that first one takes some of the pressure off.
The 2023 world championship will be Shanahan’s first as the team’s head coach. As such, expect the style of play to differ a bit from England teams of the past.
“High pace, we want to push transition,” he said. “We definitely want to execute with our numbers, being able to make stops in goal; we feel like we’re capable between the pipes and trying to create transition from there.”
Added Bracegirdle: “We want to be dominant on the ball. We want to be physical. It’s difficult when you’re playing against teams like Canada and the U.S. who are going to be able to dominate the ball from the faceoff and from multiple positions on the field. You’re going to have to really battle for the ball in the middle; we’re really going to have to battle for the little wins all over.”
Despite all the challenges England will face, the world championship provides a much-needed point of optimism after a challenging last few years because of the global pandemic. Event schedules were upended, and players were robbed of playing the sport they love.
Bracegirdle and his teammates have tried to navigate it all with a positive outlook, and now they can finally see the moment they have been preparing for.
“Ultimately, we’re all really excited. It’s been an odd period the last couple of years. It’s been quite turbulent, but I think lacrosse is on an exciting journey,” he said. “The world championship is always one of the big staple events that everyone looks forward to, and San Diego looks by all means like it’s going to be a fantastic venue.”
And for Shanahan, it’ll be more opportunity to continue to spread the sport’s popularity both internationally and across England.
“Any time you get a chance to compete for a world championship, it’s life-changing moments that can provide a great inspiration for the next generation of players,” he said. “When we’re playing on ESPN, we’re playing in a premier game, how are we going to present ourselves? How are we going to carry ourselves to inspire the next generation of English players that are going to try to also win a world championship? That’s something that I take personally, that we want to be able to inspire people to pick up a stick, especially in England.”