HTHC Hamburg Warriors Whirlwind American Tour "A Learning Experience"
By Soenke "Z" Liebau
In the very early morning hours of Friday, October 6th, 2006, a tired group of young and not so young men assembled at Hamburg Airport to embark upon what would be a premiere in the history of German Lacrosse. For the first time, a German club team - the HTHC Hamburg Warriors to be exact - was about to travel to the United States to play Lacrosse!
We would play seven games over the course of nine days, so everybody knew it would be a hard week. Of course, we had been told who we would be playing and what to expect, but as it goes with coaches, no one really believed the evaluation of our chances against these teams. So we boarded the airplane with mixed feelings about how successful the trip would prove to be in terms of actually winning games. However all of us were sure of two things - that it would be a "learning experience" and that we would have tons of fun along the way.
Departure of the main groups went off without a hitch, but halfway across the Atlantic Ocean word reached us that two of our middies who were traveling separately had been delayed in Hamburg and missed their connecting flight in Paris. This meant we would be forced to play the first two games without them which would further stretch our already short bench.
After over 20 hours of travel, we finally arrived in Tallahassee at 2300 Friday night and received the first impression of what we were up against. After the cold autumn weather we had left behind in Hamburg, the first step into the warm, humid Florida air was like a slap to the face. However, this was quickly overcome and we rendezvoused with two more players who had traveled independently and who actually had made their flight from Paris. Everybody was pretty exhausted and, with the first game scheduled for 11 o'clock the next morning, all we really wanted to do was find the hotel and get some sleep.
This accomplished, after a good night's sleep and a good (even if somewhat fatty) breakfast, we left for the field in two rented vans. We arrived there to find the first game of the 2006 FSU Fall Ball Invitational already in progress - FSU vs. Clemson Tigers. The very first thing we couldn't help but notice was the amount of players each team had brought - both of them had considerably more players in the sideline bench area even than we had brought all totaled. After we settled down and watched the game for a while, we started evaluating our chances against the teams we saw out on the turf. Both of them were very good and everything we had expected of American College teams, but we quickly noticed they were still, in fact, human. They sometimes threw the ball away and failed to pick up groundballs now and then. We decided we could play with them.
This belief proved to be right when middie Florian Kriependorf won our very first face off on American soil and carried the ball through to score a goal in the opening seconds of our first game. Emory, our valued opponent, was not, however, in the least intimidated and fought back with a goal of their own only minutes later. As the first half progressed, both teams seemed to be pretty evenly matched. As our shooters were able to convert more chances, we managed to pull away to a nice but nowhere near comfortable enough three goal lead by half. Emory came out strong after the halftime break, and we had seemed to relax on the achievements of the strong first half. This allowed Emory back to within one, but shaken by this we started playing better and fighting again for groundballs. The HTHC Hamburg Warriors stepped it up in the fourth, held off an Emory comeback, and held on through full time to secure our first win on American soil!
The sounding of final whistle was not only the end of the game, but proved to be the opening bell for an equally heated and hard fought trading session. After that we had time to grab a quick lunch before our next game started, this time against home team FSU under their Head Coach Bill Harkins.
FSU fielded, as I have mentioned, over 50 players that day, including many first year rookies, all still sporting their high school or select team helmets, having not yet made the cut or have been issued FSU gear. However, the depth of their bench was not the only change we noticed, and the tempo and style of the game was different to that of our morning outing from the opening whistle.
FSU dominated the first quarter, winning most of the face offs and fighting much harder for the ground balls. We played a lot of defense, which, in itself, would not have been a problem. However, they also had a much higher conversion rate than we, and worked up a comfortable lead quickly, and this was very much a problem. After a half time pep-talk from our Head Coach Kevin Parker, things started getting a bit better and we tied the third quarter against an FSU squad that had pulled a few of their starters out of the game. In the end, the huge deficit of the first half proved to be too much to catch up and the game ended with a convincing victory for FSU.
That evening, we had the first team dinner of the trip at the grand ol' Cracker Barrel right there next to the hotel, where they don't, by the way, serve beer. This we had to find out both too late and the hard way, since this little detail had unfortunately slipped Coach Kevin's mind when he decided where to go for dinner. After dinner, most team members went straight to bed, the voyage still weighing heavily and jetlag just beginning to set in nicely.
The next morning was, what a surprise, nice and sunny and the traveling party was finally complete as our two belated middies who had been lost somewhere over France had finally arrived the night before. Everybody was exited to get out to the turf and forget the FSU game of the day before by playing strong and shooting for a win against Clemson University.
Face off was 10 o'clock and unfortunately, once more it was the opposing team who started strong and managed to secure a sizeable advantage. This time however we managed to rally and get our head into the game quicker and managed to catch up to within two goals at halftime. The second half started of well, again with a tied third quarter, but in the forth quarter our bench slowly started to show its short legs and Clemson was able to pull away once more to coast to an 8:4 win. Trading after this game was especially heavy, as Clemson had gorgeous neon orange shorts that every Hamburg player wanted to get their hands on.
Unfortunately, two of our most senior players had to leave right after the game as they were unable to get off work for the whole duration of the trip and had to be back to Germany by Monday morning 0900. Our middie lines shrunk again. For the final go-round at the FSU Fall Ball gig, our coaches decided to mix it up a bit, to give their bench a bit of a run, and take it easy on ours… Also, the one hour break before the next game gave us ample time to relax and gather our strength for the second round against FSU, this time with support from their senior players. As we decided we didn't really need to warm up, we just relaxed and watched FSU go through their pre-game drills and tried to get to know the FSU guys with whom we would be playing. This game turned out to be a lot of fun, and as it progressed our offense and defense started working well together with the new guys, but not well enough to overcome the FSU squad at the end of the day.
Our thanks go out to all the teams who came to Tallahassee to play - Emory Lacrosse and their Coach Dave Reed, Clemson Lacrosse and their Coaches Buff Grubb and Alex Drozd, and FSU - and especially to Coach Bill Harkins and his FSU Lacrosse Staff and Coaches Rory Whipple and Matt Waesche for making us feel welcome and providing us with a great tournament. We hope to be able to return the favor some day!
That evening and with no games scheduled for the next two days, we decided that a few beers were well in order and thus the underwater-beer-drinking-contest came to life at, or rather, in the hotel pool. On Monday we were met by the FSU Assistant Coach Rory Whipple at the turf. He was nice enough to open the gate for us so we could practice, and afterwards opened the trunk of his car and revealed it to be loaded with FSU team gear. This we were only too happy to relieve him of. With the whole afternoon off duty, the team broke up into small groups and several chose to pursue that greatest of modern American pastimes - checking out the mall. Others ate, headed back to the pool, or generally spent the rest of the day in a relaxed way, most everybody nursing bumps and bruises (and egos) from the long weekend.
Tuesday was all about traveling, and after checking out of the hotel we drove back to the airport and boarded a plane back to Charlotte (where we had already spent a six hour layover on the way in - joy). The next two games were scheduled against Pfeiffer College on Wednesday and Team Charlotte U19 on Thursday. After checking into the hotel, we got a well-meant tip but some seriously bad directions as to where to find the "best pizza in town". We set off to check out that place but after the leading van stopped, seemingly lost out in the North Carolina countryside, and asked directions for a second time, a mutiny broke out in the trail van which decided to return to a Red Robin we had spotted on the way out. The other van found the pizza place, the legendary if somewhat removed Duo Amigas, and were treated to genuine NYC style pizza and even Gino's Real Italian Ice!
Game day again, and the next morning everybody was very exited going, especially since Pfeiffer has a German player Chrissi Frank (#23) of BLAX Berlin, playing for them whom we all knew from playing against in the German Championship finals several times. In addition, their Assistant Coach Chris Perkinson, is an old buddy of our Coach Parker's, who of course wanted badly to beat him on his home field. "The best laid plans of Warriors and Kevin", however, as things did not start well - Pfeiffer scored two early goals including a long middie sweep by Chrissi, and we just could not convert our chances. Thus, the first quarter ended without a goal for us. In the second quarter, we finally started hitting the net, but as Pfeiffer still scored more than we did, the score at half time did not look good. The half time talk was agitated, as neither our coach nor we ourselves were satisfied with the way we were playing and everybody had some suggestions as to what we needed to improve - mostly for the other guy. We took most of them seriously and got into the game a bit better, tying the third quarter (again!) but loosing the fourth quarter by one goal. If you have been following, and are any good at math, you have realized that this put another mark in the L column for us. We were disappointed because we thought the second half showed that we could have possibly won this game, but at the same time we were also satisfied because no one had stopped going hard and we had even managed to pick it up in the second half.
The next day's game was against Team Charlotte, an U19 select team who had the good fortune of having a beautiful turf facility to play on. The age difference between the two teams was quite obvious with some of our guys being well the far side of 30 and the youngest guy on their team weighing in at just over 14, but they more than made up for it with their speed and stick skills. Again, we again found ourselves down at half time. We started the third quarter well with two goals in quick succession and continued catching up (they were getting nervous, you could tell…) but were too slow to beat the fading light which ended the game early after three quarters when the lights failed to come on. Since no one bothered to keep an exact score of the game, the final result is somewhat fuzzy, but both teams agreed that Team Charlotte had won by a small margin. Chalk another L up and so we were left with only one game to get a second win on our USA trip.
Cue the grand finale, and a change of scenery to go with it. For this game we drove 3 hours up in to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Boone, North Carolina. As the forecast was calling for snow, this came as quite a surprise to many team members who had been under the general impression that "we're going to Florida, why would I bring warm clothes?" So we simply decided that exercise would keep us warm. And, we discovered that our hotel in Boone was equipped with a Jacuzzi, so that was the plan for after the game.
When we arrived at the Lees McRae fields, the other team was already warming up, so we hurried into the locker room to get dressed and get going too. Lee McRae dominated the face offs from the beginning, scored an early first goal and continued playing well, while we failed to convert the chances we had. However a phenomenal performance of our goalie Till Friedheim helped keep the McRae advantage to acceptable levels till halftime. In his halftime talk, Coach Parker stressed that, although he knew we were tired and beat up after 6 games in a week, that now, with only forty minutes playing time left in the whole trip, now was the time to really leave it out on the field and show who came to play. Fired up, we came out playing hard, hustling after groundballs, and actually converting the chances we got. A day late and a dollar short we came up in the end, and credit to a strong Lees McRae team who handed us yet another L for our collection.
The playing thus ended, but the bazaar had only just begun. This being the last chance to trade away the rest of the gear we had brought over for this purpose (and so not have to lug it all back home again too), trading was especially heated and many good deals were made on both sides.
After our return to the hotel the Jacuzzi was immediately occupied and used extensively until the thirst for beer became so overpowering that the next part of the evening was spent preparing for our excursion into the Boone nightlife. True to the motto "what happens at a tournament stays at a tournament" the details of this night shall not be further narrated here. One small but critical tip in case you, dear reader, ever find yourself in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Boone, NC some fateful and cold night - it is not a good idea to stop a sheriff because you mistake his car for a taxi...
The next day we left Boone early and headed back to Charlotte, where we said goodbye to two of our players who were staying on for a week's holiday and wished them well and happy hunting, navigating with a satnav that had gotten us lost a few times so far. We boarded our jet plane back home and Sunday morning arrived right back where were we had left ten days earlier, just as tired as we were then, surely a lot sorer, but how much richer in experience?
All in all, it was a great trip and we would like to thank very much everybody who made it possible for us to do this, including again everyone associated with the FSU Fall Ball especially Coach Harkins (German National Team Coach, by the way), Coach Whipple (Iroquois National Team Coach, by the way), and Coach Waesche. Thanks further to Pfeiffer Lacrosse and Coaches Dombrowski and Perkinsen, to the Team and Staff of Charlotte U19, and to Lees McRae Lacrosse and Coach Matthew Edmunds (Wales Lacrosse National Team Player, by the way). Special thanks go out to our as-all-too-often-nameless game officials for a job well done every step of the way - we appreciate your support greatly!
The HTHC Hamburg Warriors would like to thank our Coach, Kevin Parker, for all the hard work and planning he put into making this an unforgettable lacrosse and life experience for us. (In a similar sense, Hamburg Player Fabian Bernhard #33 would like to thank the waitress staff at Hooters of Tallahassee for their fine and very individual rendition of Happy Birthday - video available soon.)
And last but certainly not least, thanks to our generous sponsor, who made this possibility a reality but who prefers to remain anonymous…
And that's all Z wrote…
"Shiza!" - The Little Differences of European Lacrosse
Reflections of Clemson Lacrosse Player, Rob Shaut (#7)
It was an awesome experience playing the German team. The first opportunity I have had to play lacrosse against Europeans. First of all I was shocked at the number of teams Germany has put together. It sounded like they had four large divisions with 6 to 8 teams making up each division.
I noticed several on field differences from most teams I have played against in the U.S. The one major difference was (I can only speak for their defensemen) the ability of the longpoles to shift from on field intensity to after the whistle passiveness. On one occasion I was being played very tightly because Hamburg was in a shutoff adjacent defense. The defender was throwing several firm slap checks and riding me with lots of aggression. After the play ended he apologized for one check in particular (which could have been called a slash) and applauded my handling of the ball. Two things I rarely come across in the states. Later on in the game a timeout was called. I was crossing through two Hamburg middies and one of them commented on a shot I had taken earlier that game (A low to high left handed shot from about 10 yards). He told me he liked it and chuckled as we crossed paths.
I was also stunned to learn that the team varied from age 17 to 35. This is a true testament to the love that the Germans displayed about lacrosse. Travelling to another country to play a few college club teams may seem a little strange to most in the US. However, through conversation with the German players it seemed like most everyone on Hamburg's teamed treated the trip as an awesome experience that they would rarely pass up.
All in all it was quite an experience playing against The Hamburg team. I was pleased to have the opportunity. It was without doubt one of the best lacrosse experiences I have ever had. Not to mention I traded for a pretty sick pair of Berlin Open Hawaiian style lacrosse shorts. It's rare I get the chance to hear "Shiza!" yelled when a pass is dropped. I'm accustomed to those four letter American words.
The Official Word - Douglas, the Mountainside Ref
I'm one of the officials (the older, good looking guy!!!) who did your Oct 13th game at Lees-McRae. I enjoyed meeting you and learning more about Lacrosse in Europe. I was impressed with the individual skills of your players. You have obviously done a great job teaching them. It seemed it was your team defense & sliding skills and the ability to dodge a player one-on-one that hurt you. But that comes with work and playing high quality teams, something I know you are trying to do or you would not have gone to the time, effort and expense to come over and play. What a wonderful experience for these boys. Hope everyone had a safe trip home.
A New Exchange - Tyler Stieber, Lees McRae Lacrosse (#13)
Playing an International team was a once in a lifetime experience. It was a great opportunity to play competitors from half way around the world. After our four games in Pennsylvania our coach posed us the question of playing the Hamburg team from Germany. Our choice was to either play Hamburg or go on fall break early. It wasn't even a question of whether we wanted to or not; it was a unanimous decision that we wanted to play this team. It was an opportunity everyone knew they could not pass up. Coming into the game we were nervous because we really didn't know what to expect. This was a team from another country with totally different rules than we were used to. We couldn't imagine how they were able to come into another country and change the way they played to meet our rule books. This was an unbelievable chance for us to play this team and an honor, as well. We were excited and eager to play the whole week and the game was much more than what we expected. It was a challenge to the end.
One of the best parts was after the game; we traded our equipment and clothing with theirs. This was something new for us because we never thought about trading our sweatshirts or helmets with another team, but it ended up being an experience that I had to tell everyone about. We all got something of theirs and they got something of ours to take back to Germany. Just to know that our things will be worn in another country is exciting. After the trading we all got to talking to one another and surprisingly they were just like us. I want to thank team Hamburg again for coming and playing us.
A Note from Head Coach Buff Grubb, Clemson Lacrosse
It was a pleasure for Clemson to play the Warriors. Our kids were talking about the experience most of the way home on the bus. It really meant something different for them to play a team from Europe. I'm very glad we had the opportunity.
It was also special for me particularly in demonstrating the growth of lacrosse. I serve on the Board of Governors of US Lacrosse so it is very gratifying to see the quality and sportsmanship and camaraderie exhibited over the weekend in Tallahassee.
Photos by Ken Galluccio
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