Interview with Team England Captain Sam Russell

England blast off to Denver within a week to put four years of intense planning and huge sacrifice to the test against the world’s best. And this time, the Three Lacrosse Lions will breathe fire as they take a supercharged game plan into the tournament, which opens on July 10.

“We are going to be an exciting team to watch and will score a few more goals than England teams in the past,” said middie Sam Russell, who co-captains the squad with Tom Williamson and Nick Anderton.

“We will be aggressive in defence and push the ball in transition whereas in the past we’ve tended to slow the ball down, have a lot of possessions, pack it in on D and let other teams play.

“But we want to show more of what we can do. We have some real skill and this is the most talented side I’ve been involved with so, without putting too much pressure on ourselves, we want to play with flair, score some really nice goals and do the country proud.”

England have a mountain to climb, not least the fact they will be playing at altitude in the Mile High City, as they face off against the powerhouses USA, Canada, Australia, Iroquois and Japan in the elite group.

And their opening game against the Iroquois on Friday, July 11, is both a mouth-watering prospect and the ideal opportunity for a skills parade. “I can’t wait for the tournament and I’m really looking forward to the Iroquois game,” added Sam, who next season captains Poynton in the NEMLA Premier League. “I think the Thomsons could field 25% of the Iroquois team if they wanted to.”

“I played against two of them at the U19 World Championships in Canada and they were phenomenal then. They are obviously coming into the Worlds off an incredible season so I’m really excited to be up against them again.”

“Every game will be tough but then it’s a World Championships so you’d expect that. But I think you will see a really dynamic England team in action.”

“We are very well prepared and the coaches have done a brilliant job with the structure, skills and teamwork. We all know our roles and have been playing together for a while now – 16 of the 23 played at the Euros so we have a great team feel rather than being a collection of individuals mashed together.”

The 24-year-old could scarcely have believed he would be leading his national team out at the World Championships when he picked up is first plastic stick courtesy of LDO Erik Foust.

“Five of us from primary school took it on and it was great to progress together – four of us made the England U19s and the fifth made the Wales U19s,” added Sam, who runs the Lacrossethepond scheme that links US lacrosse-playing graduates up with UK masters course. Sam slotted straight into the Poynton Juniors programme and made four trips to the States with Stockport Metros.

“I was good at football but going to the States pretty much sealed it for lacrosse for me,” he said. “I got into the A-team at 16 and then into the 1sts for the second half of that season. We then won the league to get promoted to the Prem along with the Junior Flags so it was a fantastic season.”

Sam was trialling for the U19s team when visiting coach Skip Flanagan offered him a scholarship at the Western Reserve Academy in Ohio, which he jumped at, leaving Cheadle and Marple 6th Form College for life at one of the oldest and most prestigious boarding schools in the US.

“It was a big culture shock. I hated it at first. It was very preppy and we had to wear blazers, chinos and ties during the day and there was a time to be in the dorms and a time for lights out,” he said. “There was a foot of snow outside so there was little else to do apart from classes so I’m thinking ‘What on earth am I doing here?’ “But then we started playing lacrosse and it was incredible – two hours a day, five days a week. We were a top 20 ranked school so travelled around the country staying at hotels for games.”

Sam was a stand-out at the Academy before opting for a four-year course at Whittier College, in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, where he also shone and became captain. “It was maybe more of a lifestyle choice than a lacrosse choice,” he admitted. “I could play football there and four years in California was incredible so it was a good fit for me. The lacrosse was fantastic and intense. It moved up to two hours a day, six days a week on the field with other fitness and tactics sessions. I really enjoyed it.”

His US experience helped him gain the captain’s armband for the U19 championships in 2008 where he helped steer England to fourth place thanks to an epic 12-11 victory over Australia, scoring the winner 24 seconds before the whistle. “It was the most memorable game I’ve played in,” added Sam. “From the first trial with 100 kids, the coaches drummed it into us that we had to beat Australia – they were the target. That went on for years and when we did it, it was incredible. I got a massive punch in the face for my troubles scoring the winner but it was worth it. All our families were there and it was very emotional when the final whistle blew. It is something I will never forget.”

Sam, who played in the 2010 World Championships aged just 20, graduated in 2012 and has been an instrumental part of Poynton’s emergence as a Premiership force.

He has been training hard with the England squad, under head coach Matt Bagley, over the last four years and the intensity has been cranking up as the tournament approaches. The team has been working every other weekend for most of the season rising to every weekend – 6 hours each day – since May with two Strength & Conditioning sessions and general fitness session each week thrown on top.

The build up has also included a five-game tour of the States in October, a three game trip to Portugal and two residential weekends. “They’ve been giving it to us very hard recently and we need it because the altitude is going to be a challenge,” he said. “They say you can lose 20% of your power on arrival in Denver but we will have time to acclimatise and have trained to compensate for that so we should be fine for the games.

“It is going to be an intense experience but you have to switch off, every player is different but I play better the more relaxed I am so I like to have a lot of banter. I like to take my mind off lacrosse in the downtime.

“This is the best prepared team I’ve been involved in and we are in great shape. There’s a fantastic sprit in the squad and we are ready to show the world what we can do.”

Team England depart for a week long pre-tournament training camp on July 3rd. English Lacrosse will be bringing you exclusive content throughout the 2014 World Championships. www.englishlacrosse.co.uk/2014worldlacrosse