This article originally appeared in the November print edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, available exclusively to members of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse today and have the magazine delivered right to your mailbox while helping to support the development of the sport.
Gale Thorpe wasn’t surprised to see a voicemail notification from his father pop up on his phone one day this summer.
“My dad’s a big voicemail guy. He loves it,” Gale joked about father, Regy. “I don’t think I picked up, so of course I saw ‘Regy Thorpe voicemail,’ and I went and played it.”
But the younger Thorpe wasn’t expecting what he heard once he pressed play. His father, head coach of the U.S. indoor national team, was calling to tell him he’d made the 23-man roster for the upcoming World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Langley, B.C.
Regy Thorpe started with his typical coach speak, but couldn’t hide his excitement for Gale, who’d grown up playing box lacrosse on the Onondaga reservation and continued to play in Canada through the 2019 summer.
“He congratulated me, saying thank you and telling me I was making the team,” Gale Thorpe said. “Toward the end of the voicemail, he turned into a father, saying, ‘Hey son, I’m really proud of you. Congratulations.’ I got the coach’s voicemail, but it slowly turned into my dad talking there.”
Thorpe, 24, was one of the young stars at the world championship. He finished with 27 points, helping to fuel a U.S. team that had its best shot yet to play for the gold medal — a barrier yet to be reached by the program.
The U.S. had a strong veteran core that included Joel White, Brett Manney, Chris O’Dougherty, Greg Downing and Anthony Kelly. Twice in five days, the U.S. came tantalizingly close to knocking off the vaunted Iroquois Nationals, only to fall short. The Americans couldn’t hold on to a third-quarter lead in a defensive struggle against the Iroquois in the Sept. 26 semifinals at Langley Sports Centre in Langley, British Columbia, losing 9-7. Two days later, they held off a late surge by England to claim their fifth straight bronze medal with an 11-8 victory.
Canada, undefeated all-time in WILC competition, defeated the Iroquois 19-12 in the gold medal game.
Now, the focus for the U.S. indoor program will shift to 2023. Some of that core will not return for another run at gold. Instead, the future responsibility will be shared by a crop of young talent displayed at this year’s world championship. Gale Thorpe is firmly in that category, with more box experience than most of his U.S. teammates, having played since he was 5.
“The future is bright for sure,” Manney said after the semifinal loss to the Iroquois. “We told those guys at the end of the game, they have to carry the torch.”
Gale Thorpe, a forward, had not earned recognition on an international scale until now. He was one of many U.S. players that impressed on the world stage, realizing the benefits of having more Americans playing in the National Lacrosse League.
And as much as the theme surrounding this team was the progress it made to close the gap between it and the top two teams in the world, almost as vital, and overlooked, is the youth movement. Among the U.S. indoor team’s top performers in Langley were Thorpe and recent college standouts like Matt Dunn, Connor Kelly, Matt Rambo, Blaze Riorden, Cody Radziewicz, Davey Emala and Adam Osika.
Kelly and Rambo joined the team in British Columbia less than 24 hours after winning the Premier Lacrosse League championship with Whipsnakes. Emala and Osika were added to the roster after injuries to Ethan O’Connor and Tom Schreiber, the latter of whom is considered the best America has to offer in the indoor game. Schreiber suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the PLL playoffs while playing for Archers.
Each of the new additions made a seamless transition into the fold. Ultimately, though, the result was the same as the previous four world championships for the Americans — a bronze medal, looking up at Canada and the Iroquois.
“We are what we are, and that’s bronze. We’re a third-place team,” Regy Thorpe said. “That’s not what we came for, but there’s some positive growth these past two-and-a-half years for U.S. indoor as a whole. The future is very bright. There’s just a great group of young prospects coming up.”
Regy Thorpe knows better than most just how far the U.S. has come. Although he never played box lacrosse growing up, he attended an NLL tryout coming out of college and became a fixture in the league with the Rochester Knighthawks.
Years later, Thorpe made the U.S. indoor team roster for the 2007 games in Nova Scotia. There, he gained perspective on the development system, or absence thereof, for box lacrosse talent in the U.S.
After Thorpe led the Knighthawks to the 2007 NLL championship, he took the next flight from Arizona to the eastern tip of Canada. That U.S. team entered the world championship with one training camp under its belt. It lacked chemistry, and the talent pool was small compared to Canada and the Iroquois. In two games against their North American rivals, the Americans lost by a combined 23 goals.
Once Thorpe was hired as U.S. coach in 2017, he made it a mission to expand the talent pool, and to allow players the opportunity to train together more often. It started with the Heritage Cup that year, then a Blue-White Game at Baltimore’s Du Burns Arena in January 2018. In September of last year, the U.S. program visited Onondaga reservation for the Lacrosse All Stars North American Invitational. The next month, Thorpe and his team traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for another training and tryout weekend. Then this past May, the U.S. team returned to Du Burns Arena for another Blue-White Game.
“They were building chemistry,” Thorpe said, “but it also helped us identify who can fit our system”
Another goal for Thorpe was to get his players more professional experience. Mission accomplished. Every player on the U.S. team — outside of the retired Anthony Kelly — will be on an active NLL roster or invited to camp this fall.
That list includes Gale Thorpe, who was drafted in the second round of this year’s NLL Entry Draft, held on the same night as the U.S. team’s first practice in Langley. Regy Thorpe, head coach and general manager of the expansion New York Riptide, tabbed his son with the selection.
Gale Thorpe, who made it to the President’s Cup this summer as part of the Akwesasne Bucks Senior B team, will now have a shot to groom his box lacrosse skills with the best in the game. So will a slew of other Americans.
The bronze-medal finish did not affect coaches’ or players’ confidence in the direction of the U.S. indoor program.
“Right now, it’s not enough to say we’re almost there,” White said. “I can’t say enough about this coaching staff, US Lacrosse and what they’re putting into the box lacrosse game.”
As much as the last four years were a showcase of steady growth for the American box lacrosse movement, the next four could prove to be the rapid rise — one that could lead to the gold-medal game and beyond.
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