On the sidelines coaching a Friday night NCAA DIII game, Mike Bocklet had to scramble out the door on Saturday morning to catch an early flight to Denver for the weekend’s training camp. The energy walking into the Bronco’s UCHealth Training Center felt different this year. Spirits were at a high in the company of familiar faces, the core of the 2016 MLL Championship-winning Denver Outlaws were picking up where they left off. Planted right on the sideline, the Steinfeld Trophy was on display as reminder of what was, and can be, accomplished. When Mike joined up with the rest of the crew, it was like just yesterday they were raising the trophy above their heads. Aside from his brother Chris’ off-season movement, and defensemen Max Schmidt and Mike Skudin’s retirement, the clubhouse already looked a lot like last year. The only staples they were currently missing were midfielders Wes Berg and newly acquired Brent Adams for NLL commitments.
Spirits were elevated, but the guys weren’t just glad to see each other and get a weekend away. There was a strategic reason for the animation of personalities. The first time the Outlaws won the Championship, they followed up with a .500 season. It was the worst summer in the club’s history on the field. The team took things for granted and paid the price for it. A solid chunk of the current club was around for the highest high and the lowest low. Bocklet joined the summer after the winning season and never wants to see the team fall back to that place. They’re motivated to keep the tempo up and come back to camp in great shape to repeat the feeling of winning, not losing.
Camps always feel quick. Fly in Friday or Saturday, out on Sunday. This means long sessions in Denver with a high tempo. Based on the elite level of skill and competitive nature, things get elevated quickly. At Outlaws’ camp, the body is going to take a beating. The coaching staff brings in even more numbers to make sure guys are always seeing different looks and creating full-field situations. Getting this many guys on one field can feel a little watered down, but it’s the coaches’ way of mimicking the movements and real flow of lacrosse. It also gives them a chance at plucking a diamond out of the rough who came into camp in great shape and could make an addition somewhere on the roster.
At MLL training camps, particularly in Denver, time is spent just playing the game. Unlike other professional sports, they don’t just go through the motions like batting practice or hitting the sleds. The Outlaws jump right in and go after the defense. They only get a couple of training camps before going live and the staff needs to know who’s going to fill the spots or get left by the wayside. 1on1, 2-man games, anything that forces guys to compete. Bocklet was impressed by his own teammates and thinks the coaches will have a tough time finding any fat to trim.
Pleasantly surprised by all of the returners’ physical fitness levels, Bocklet felt the whole lot were where exactly where they left off. That speaks volumes for a club with a large group of rookies last year. Athletes transition immediately into the MLL out of their senior NCAA season in shape. The following months away from scheduled workouts is what makes or breaks a lot of pro careers. Getting out of a routine and into “adult life” kills longevity. The sophomore class made it a point to listen to the advice of their vets and came into the weekend ready to attack 2017. They only have so much time together to get prepared, and none of it is speed training, weightlifting, or stickwork. It’s up to players to meet those challenges on their own and then prove the results in just two weekends to earn a spot.
That’s it. Two sessions on Saturday, one on Sunday. A few meals together to build chemistry and break up the field time. What is accomplished in those few hours together over a weekend is what makes everything so impressive. Since it’s not about the paycheck, it’s about the pride, guys like Bocklet come into camp ready to push themselves to their limits. In just a short period of time, the Outlaws adapt and master their systems and strategies, while forming bonds between all of the players and coaches. Based on the focus and the energy alone, it’s almost a sure bet to say that Bocklet and the Outlaws aren going to give teams a run for their money again this summer.