Wieland Muskens made a deal: if the Netherlands beat Finland – a team that had beaten the Dutch 11-2 in the 2016 European Championship – in the 2022 European Lacrosse Federation Men’s Championship Qualifier, he would let his teammates shave his number into the side of his head. He wasn’t convinced the Netherlands could pull it off.
Of course, the Dutch won, 10-4.
“They didn’t want to shave my number in because they were enjoying it so much that they actually just gave me a good haircut,” Muskens said. “But it was still a lot of fun.”
The win set the stage for the Netherlands to emerge from the European qualifier a success. The players surely expected to advance to the upcoming 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship, but this was validation that all their hard work had paid off.
“We wanted to prove that we were the best team there,” assistant coach Nathan Hunt said. “That was really our goal going in, to show that we as Dutch lacrosse have come a long way and that we are contenders in Europe and send a message that when we got to the world championship that we were a contender there as well.”
Hunt has been in coaching since he was 15 years old. A native of Minnesota in the United States, he relished the opportunity to continue to help the sport spread, especially in a part of the U.S. where it hadn’t caught on as strongly as on the East Coast.
“I just love lacrosse in general, and I love seeing the game grow,” he said. “It’s done a lot for me, and so I appreciate the opportunity to pass that on to other people.”
He played college lacrosse at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and later coached in Texas. He joined the Dutch men’s team coaching staff in the second half of 2020, though the pandemic prevented him from fully onboarding until 2021.
Entering the European qualifier, the Dutch expected their opponents to provide stiff challenges, and they did. In the first game against Sweden, the Dutch started fast, only to see the Swedes surge back before the Dutch held on for a 7-6 win. The win over Finland was the first time the Dutch had beaten the Fins in a long time, if not ever, per Hunt’s recollection. Finally, a 9-7 victory over France – one that required a second-half comeback – clinched the Netherlands’ spot in the world championship.
The Dutch also faced the Czech Republic in a crossover game, losing 11-8 but still winning their group.
“In the end, we had four really high-quality lacrosse games, and I think that was a really nice opportunity to get better,” Muskens said.
The qualifier accomplished what the team knew it was capable of all along.
“This program expects to be playing among the best in the world, and they expect to be a top-five program in Europe,” Hunt said. “It’s not like we’re some plucky underdogs, and we’re some miracle story that we happened to qualify. We might not have any top-five players in the world in the Netherlands, but we believe that with our teamwork and our consistent level of play that we can contend. We feel like we work harder than anybody, we practice more, and then our guys gel so well.”
The team meets up weekly to practice and continues developing that all-important chemistry on and off the field.
Looking ahead to the world championship, expect to see the Dutch style of play from the European qualifier carry over: speed and strength.
“We pride ourselves on trying to be bigger, faster and stronger than our opponent,” Hunt said. “Everybody knows that when they play the Dutch, we’re going to have a couple 6’3”, 6’4”, 6’5” guys, 200 pounds plus. We get out, we run. We want to play fast and an exciting brand of lacrosse. We also really lean on our defense. That’s always been the Dutch calling card, no matter what.”
In San Diego, the Dutch will compete in a group with Ireland, Latvia, Peru and Korea. The goal? Finish in top two in the pool and advance to the playoffs.
Muskens said what they hope to achieve is quite simple.
“Top 10 is our goal,” he said. “If we are top 10, we go home successfully.”
As Hunt highlighted, the success of Dutch lacrosse isn’t necessarily a surprise – it’s part of the high expectations they have for themselves. But even still, the upcoming world championship provides another opportunity to prove themselves as top-tier contenders on an international stage.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity for Dutch lacrosse,” Hunt said. “It’s a growing sport here in the Netherlands. I talked about wanting to give back to the sport and bring it west in the United States. This is an opportunity to go even farther east with the sport. It’s easy to overlook what European lacrosse is doing outside of maybe the U.K., but what we really want to do is represent Europe and show that there are more contenders than England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.”
“We have a good team, and we want to show that off.”