When the pools came out for the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship, it was clear that Pool C would be a gauntlet with three teams that finished in the top ten of the 2018 Men’s Championship in Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Israel, who were the hosts in 2018.
All three teams have appeared in men’s championships since after 2010 and are growing powers anchored by strong talent with collegiate experience.
After five days in San Diego, Israel has risen to the challenge with an impressive 3-0 start, taking down Sweden, the Philippines and Puerto Rico in order, the last of which was undefeated with the second-best scoring offense heading into the game.
Israel is anchored by an elite defense with excellent goalkeeping, and has enough attacking options to methodically break down opposing defenses. The team has eight different players with multiple goals and is leading the tournament with man-up goals, a ruthlessness that has allowed Israel to control games at its pace.
“We just came in prepared to play our system,” said goalkeeper Andrew Morris. “We trusted ourselves and we were able to react on the fly. It helps when you have a lot of veteran players who have been around and seen things, so we can adjust, which really helps.”
Morris has been one of the best goalkeepers in the championship, with a save percentage over 60%. He made 15 saves against Puerto Rico, who he complimented a team full of skilled players.
Israel has had to gel quickly though, because despite returning eight players from 2018, this current squad has only been playing together for a few weeks – the upward trajectory of Israel’s performances each day is a feature, not a bug.
“This team is really special,” added Morris. “We got this group together for the first time a few weeks ago. So we’re just trying to get better every single day. This is the best we’ve played so far but also the worst we’ve played so far – we’re going to keep getting better and build with what we have.
Despite the growing pains, Israel looks like like they’ve been playing together for years. The team has fostered a great spirit, that shows up in the connectedness of their team defense.
“The key is play as a team, ” said Nathaniel Solomon, who leads the offense in points. “We say בְּיַחַד [beyachad], which means together, and we really played that way today, which was unbelievable. We played in total control and came out on top.”
With Pool C locked up, Israel has one more game on Monday before what will surely be a tough first round playoff matchup against another pool winner, and the growth mindset has Israel believing in itself.
“I think we’re looking forward to improving every day and getting one percent better,” said Solomon. “We’re looking to win the pool and then win it all. We’re headed in the right direction.”