US National Team impresses in final tuneup against New Jersey stars

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

MOUNTAIN LAKES — Mountain Lakes coach Tim Flynn was visibly humbled by the local show of support for the U.S. Team during Sunday’s exhibition against an All-Star squad from New Jersey. Both players and fans braved the searing heat and saw some quality lacrosse before the threat of a summer thunderstorm ended play after three quarters of action.

Matthew Kavanaugh fired a hat trick and Daniel Eipp scored twice to lift the U.S. Team to a 9-4 triumph in the contest on the turf at Mountain Lakes High School.

Madison’s Colin McLinden was one of the four players who scored goals for the New Jersey All-Star team coached by Delbarton’s Matt Kovachik and Summit’s Jim Davidson.

The U.S. Team previously played exhibitions against Long Island and Philadelphia All-Star teams before Sunday’s contest. The squad that includes players from Colorado and California as well as the traditional East Coast hotbeds will leave next week for the international tournament in Turku, Finland that will be contested from July 12-21. The U.S.team has dominated the Under-19 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Tournaments in the past.

Bridgewater Raritan’s Tyler Barbarich is one of three New Jersey players on the U.S. Under-19 Natiional team. Photo by Mark Kitchin

Although the contest ended early, Flynn was satisfied that the team had learned its lesson from a poor start against the Philadelphia Area All-Stars last week. On Sunday, the U.S. team jumped out to a 6-0 lead and had a strong performance by goalie Zachary Oliveri before the team of Garden State standouts edged back in with a few goals before halftime.

“It means a lot,’’  Flynn said. “There are so many people out here in Jersey and they all came out to support us.  

 “I know some people changed their vacation plans to do this. It was just fantastic to be able to put it together. It was very humbling for me to have all these kids from Northern New Jersey support us. From 130 campers at a clinic we had (on Saturday), to a full packed house today. It’s just great stuff.’’

Flynn believed the early finish was probably a blessing since they wanted a full, healthy contingent of players for their trip. They also didn’t want to endanger the fans that put up with the torrid 90-degree temperatures.

“We would have loved to play the final quarter but you know what – the safety of the fans and the safety of the kids is more important,’’ Flynn said.

There were about a dozen athletes with Morris County ties on the New Jersey team including Morristown’s Pat Laconi, who is a member of the NCAA champion Loyola College squad, and former Lakers Chase Winter, Pat Flynn, Scott McWilliams and Greg Cuccinello, who returned to the site of so many past triumphs to play against their coach.

The New Jersey players understood the situation but that didn’t mean they didn’t relish the opportunity to compete against the very best a little bit longer.

U.S. Team attackman Kyle Keenan makes a move on a New Jersey defender Scott McWilliams of Mountain Lakes in the first half of Sunday’s exhibition. Photo by Mark Kitchin.

“I’d like to get 20 more minutes against them to see what I could do,’’ New Jersey Goalkeeper Tyler Avallone said. “The weather didn’t hold up.’’

Mendham’s Avallone, who will play for Syracuse next season, only got to play the third quarter and made a couple of nifty saves. He keeps in touch with National Team member Ralph D’Agostino, the Immaculata standout, who will be his Orangemen teammate next spring.

“The quarter I played was a lot of fun,’’ Avallone said. “I was impressed with them. They put in a lot of work. I would expect nothing less than to see them bring home the gold.’’

Jack Breit was also among friends. The former Delbarton defenseman was playing against midfielder Sean Mahon, attackman Daniel Eipp and defenseman Stephen Jahalka, all U.S. Team members and teammates of his at Harvard.

“The experience was awesome,’’ Breit said. “I went to the tryouts. Every kid here is a fantastic player. It’s really fun to be out there playing a high level of lacrosse.’’

McLinden, who attended Fairfield in the spring, had the experience of getting a ball past Oliveri, on a lefty shot to the left side to get the New Jersey team on the scoreboard with 11:15 left in the second quarter. On his way back to the field after the halftime huddle, he shook hands with his former Madison coach Mark Sweeney who was one of the event organizers.

“That goalie was hot,’’ McLinden said. “We had the same amount of shots, maybe the same amount of possession time. He played an outstanding game.’’

McLinden knew a lot of the New Jersey athletes and even a few national team members who know his brother Brian from his days on the University of Virginia team. Overall, he just thought it was fun just to play again and that the New Jersey team played surprisingly well since all they had was a brief practice together that was more or less a run through.

“A lot of us haven’t picked up a stick since the end of the year,’’ McLinden said. “So it’s great to pick up a stick and start playing again.’’  

U.S. Team midfielder Brent Armstrong pushes the ball downfield against a New Jersey defender James Kennedy of Summit in first half exhibition action. Photo by Mark Kitchin

Many of the National Team players stayed minutes after the game to visit friends and indulge autograph seekers. Bridgewater-Raritan standout Tyler Barbarich thought that even though it ended early the contest served the purpose of preparing the National team for the tournament and sending them off on a positive note.

“I think it was a great test for us,’’ Barbarich said. “Their team was definitely very strong.

“This is exactly what we needed. I think it’s going to be exactly the same experience (in Europe) against some of the teams we will be playing in the tournament.’’

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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