January 27, 2013

Bradman Reps D-III in Team USA Win Over Loyola

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Live Blog Replay

Former Salisbury star Sam Bradman led all scorers Sunday with three goals and two assists in Team USA's 17-14 win over defending champion Loyola at Champion Challenge.
© Scott McCall

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Sam Bradman heard the same speech from Salisbury coach Jim Berkman on Thursday night that he did about five years ago during his freshman year with the Sea Gulls.

"Don't take a back seat. Play level-headed. Don't get too jacked up and play your game," Bradman recalled Berkman saying then and now, via phone ahead of this weekend's Champion Challenge event. "He calmed me down and got me ready for the game."

NCAA men's lacrosse's all-time winningest coach knows what buttons to push even with Bradman no longer wearing Salisbury's maroon and gold uniform on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Bradman, who was the most outstanding player of the Sea Gulls' Division III national championship game wins in 2011 and 2012, earned the same honor Sunday with Team USA in a 17-13 victory over reigning national champion Loyola.

In his first event with the U.S. men's national team, Bradman led all scorers with three goals and two assists. Bradman, who plays on the LXM Pro Tour, was on a midfield line Sunday with fellow LXMer Graham Gill and the Chesapeake Bayhawks' Ben Hunt.

And Bradman wasn't the only Division III representative to stand out. There was also former Stevenson defenseman Michael Simon who, until MLL Championship Weekend last August with the Bayhawks, had played sparingly as a professional. Simon went coast-to-coast and bounced one past Loyola goalie Jack Runkel to put the U.S. ahead 11-8 with 2:38 left in the third quarter, proving that Loyola's talented long-stick Scott Ratliff isn't the only long pole that can tickle twine.

"With Simon coming out and sticking one with the long pole too, it was a good day for D-III," Bradman said. "It's a honor being dressed up in red, white and blue... It was a real honor that I could go out and play very well."

When Team USA coach Richie Meade speaks about events such as this weekend's Champion Challenge — and the Duel in Denver and Capital Lacrosse Classic scrimmage before it — as evaluation opportunities ahead of tryouts later this year for the 2014 FIL World Championship, Sunday's performances were exactly what he means.

"It was a good evaluation for us over the last few days," Meade said, referencing a two-hour practice Friday night, a 60-minute scrimmage with Notre Dame on Saturday and Sunday's game. "[Bradman] is a good player. Simon is another guy that came from Division III who we're all shaking our heads at, trying to figure out where we were several years ago when he was being recruited. There are a lot of good players. Guys develop at different times.

"Sam had a chance to come out here and play, and he made the most of his opportunity. It's going to speak well for him moving forward. That's all part of the process," Meade said. "There's going to be surprises. There's going to be guys that everybody thinks everybody knows, and then there are going to be guys that come out of nowhere. And those are two examples of guys who have made their mark in this process."

The game, played under sunny skies and in 70-degree temperatures at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, was also a preseason gauge for the defending national champion Greyhounds. It's a different feeling for Loyola this spring. Instead of flying under the radar, a big red target might as well be painted on the backs of their green, gray and white uniforms.

Familiar names from Loyola's run to the program's first national championship are back; all but three starters including Tewaaraton Award finalist Mike Sawyer and standout short-stick midfielder Josh Hawkins, defenseman Reid Acton and Runkel and Ratliff. Sawyer finished with a pair of goals, Hawkins flew around the field and off the faceoff wings and Runkel made nine saves, including five in the first quarter.

But there were also some newbies who made an impact. Sophomore faceoff man Blake Burkhart, a transfer from Rutgers, held strong against Team USA's all-star duo of Chris Eck (10-for-14) and Alex Smith (10-for-18). Graduate student Harry Kutner, formerly of St. John's, finished with two assists playing on the second midfield. Sophomore attackman Nikko Pontrello scored twice and looked comfortable running on a starting unit with Sawyer and returning starter Justin Ward, who had one goal and three assists.

"The theme of the season is that this is a new journey," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "We just need to continue to get better every day, and not look to the past. That's our message to the guys, and that's what we're excited about because I think the team gets it. We have great senior leadership."

The U.S. led 8-6 at halftime before Pontrello scored less than a minute into the third to cut the lead to one. After six scoreless minutes Phil Dobson tied the game at eight before Bradman sparked a three-goal run to give the U.S. a cushion. He scored a man-up goal from Mike Leveille with 7:37 left in the third, assisted on the next goal by Leveille, and then the next score was Simon's bouncer.

Loyola clawed back and trailed 13-12 in the fourth, but after a goal from Chazz Woodson, Bradman canned a man-up opportunity to put the U.S. up three with 8:20 left. The Greyhounds had one final chance to make it a game following a two-minute unreleasable cross-check penalty on USA defenseman Brian Karalunas at the tail end of a Sawyer goal, but Loyola couldn't convert on the extra-man opportunity.

The largely discussed impact of the new NCAA rules on the game probably showed up the most with limited substitutions, quicker restarts and at the faceoff X. Burkhart was called for a third pre-whistle violation in both the first and second halves, which under the new rules results in a 30-second penalty on the third team violation of a half and on any subsequent violations. Team USA had three faceoff violations in the first half, giving Loyola a man-up chance with under a minute left.

"It's a big change, because mentally you kind of have to tell yourself to slow down," Burkhart said. "Sometimes it messed with what you have to do."

But some things never change, like a Chazz Woodson highlight-worthy goal. On the game's final score of the afternoon with 1:44 left, the Ohio Machine attackman stood in the near-corner and, off a restart, split a double-team then put in a diving one-handed lefty-goal near the crease to provide the final four-goal margin. The display left the crowd buzzing and raised expectations for a SportsCenter highlight of the play later Sunday night.

"Anybody that's seen me play knows it's bound to happen at some point," said Woodson, who finished with three goals.

That play belonged to Woodson. But the day belonged to Bradman and all of Team USA. The evaluations will continue.

2013 Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event

USA 3 5 3 6 - 17
LOY 3 3 3 4 – 13

Goals: USA — Bradman 3, Woodson 3, Gibson 2, Catalino 1, Danowski 1, Harrison 1, Hunt 1, C. Lao-Gosney 1, R. Lao-Gosney 1, K. Leveille 1, M. Leveille 1, Simon 1; LOY — Butts 2, Dobson 2, Pontrello 2, Sawyer 2, Hawkins 1, O'Sullivan 1, Ryan 1, Schultz 1, Ward 1
Assists: USA — Bradman 2, Danowski 1, Woodson 1, DeNapoli 1, Gill 1, M. Leveille 1; LOY — Kutner 3, Ward 3, Layne 2, O'Sullivan 2, Schultz 1
Saves: USA — Galloway 5, Rodgers 2, Burke 0; LOY — Runkel 9, Granito 4, Bonitatibus 1.
Faceoffs: Eck 10-for-14, Smith 10-for-18; LOY — Burkhart 10-for-25, Donovan 2-for-7.
Shots: USA 40, LOY 27
Ground balls: USA 24, LOY 15
Turnovers: USA 20, LOY 24

Check back to LaxMagazine.com for more coverage from Champion Challenge.

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