Australia recovered from a 4-1 deficit midway through the second quarter to take a 9-6 victory against the Israelis in Netanya Wednesday to advance to the World Lacrosse Championship semifinals.
With under 20 seconds to play in the first half of their quarterfinal and down by two goals, Australia isolated their middie, Mitchell Kennedy, by the midline covered by a pole. The Aussie timed his attack perfectly, used a deft head fake to get it all going, and fully started his dodge seconds later. After racing by his man, Kennedy slotted one toward the soil, beating Israel goalie Eric Schneider much to the delight of the rambunctious Aussie faithful.
The goal brought Australia to within one going into halftime, 4-3, and proved to be the ultimate driver of the team’s second-half play.
“That goal is a momentum play times 1,000,” said Australian defender Callum Robinson. “Mitchell Kennedy took it upon himself one-of-one to take it to the cage on a pole with 13 seconds left. If you want a player to lift up the other 22 boys on the team, that was it.”
The game wasn’t much different from the game the two teams played in Denver four years ago, which was also a quarterfinal matchup. In that game, Australia was down 5-1 before coming back to win 9-8. Australia head coach Glenn Meredith said the previous success in a very similar situation helped boost his team to claw itself back into this game. He kept the belief that if his team remained relentless, it would be all right.
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“We thought [Israe]) hadn’t played anybody over four full quarters, and they’d been resting guys in the lower division,” Meredith said. “We knew our fitness, knew our structures, and that if we kept doing what we were doing, we’d be OK and be able to run the game our way at a high level.”
It should go without saying it has been hot in Israel this summer. The heat has been a factor every team has had to deal with in this tournament, sometimes slowing teams down as games wear on. On Wednesday, it was the host nation’s team that took its foot off the gas pedal the later the game went, while Australia drove on full speed ahead.
“We don’t mind the heat,” Meredith said. “We just made a pact with ourselves that we’d relish the heat, relish the opportunity and wouldn’t let it get to us or get us down. I think the guys who were in during the final minute of the game for us were running as fast as in the first minute. That shows the fitness component we’ve put in has really paid off.” The Australians have always been dedicated to fitness, but this team really pushed that limit to new heights.
Israel head coach Bill Beroza said he noticed a difference in his team from the first to second halves.
“Second half, we came out with a little bit of tired legs or something, just lackadaisical,” Beroza said. “We weren’t scoring. [Australia] slowed the game down, controlled the ball for longer and took time off the clock. We played a lot of defense, and by playing defense you get tired. If you get tired, then you give up goals.”
Robinson said his team knew what was coming after seeing what Israel threw at it in the first half, which helped Australia hold Israel to only two second-half goals.
“We knew after playing 40 minutes where their attack was coming from, what they were trying to get,” Robinson explained. “We settled down our slides a little bit, tidied up our package. We switched our man-down play, and it all worked for the better.”
Meredith attributed the defensive display to pregame preparation.
“We watched a lot of footage,” he said. “We put a lot of work into [Max] Seibald, because he’s the distributor and the driver at the high post. We didn’t do that very well in the first quarter, but after quarter time, I thought we shut them down pretty well and shut him down pretty well.”
With the loss, Israel is now relegated to the fifth-place bracket, which is playing this weekend to determine who will be the new entrant into the 2022 Blue Division. Although the team is out of medal contention, Beroza made it clear his team is focused on achieving a spot in the top six.
The loss also ends Israel’s perfect run in the tournament. The hosts began with an 11-3 rout of Jamaica last Thursday. Then Israel walloped Russia 19-2 Saturday night. This week, the team defeated Philippines 11-8 and routed Ireland 16-4 to qualify for the quarterfinal showdown with Australia.
For Australia, the win keeps it in the hunt to return to the podium after a disappointing 2014 campaign left the country without a World Championships medal for the first time since 1974. The Aussies will face the United States on Friday at 9 P.M. in Netanya, a rematch of the 19-1 beating Team USA delivered to Australia last Saturday, for a spot in the gold medal game.
This report was originally published on Lax All Stars Thursday.
Steven Klein contributed to this report.