Excitement Greets Players and Coaches at Blaze’s First Training Camp Session
New Atlanta Blaze head coach Liam Banks ushered in the new era of Blaze lacrosse by welcoming players to training camp at Kennesaw State University on the final two days of March.
“Our focus has been to introduce the guys to the new Blaze, bond a bit with one another, understanding what our expectations are and what the outlook is for the year, and to get to know each other. We checked those boxes off,” Banks said.
With their collective sights fixed on the 2018 season opener against the Florida Launch, Sunday April 22, Banks, assistant coach and general manager Spencer Ford, and defensive assistant coach Jamie Hanford oversaw four rigorous practice sessions and a two-hour intrasquad scrimmage before dispersing.
“Part of the Blaze DNA is that we are going to coach individuals and coach them all to be better players. Professionals certainly can do everything within the game, but the reality is that everyone can always get better,” Banks added. “We are going to coach hard every day throughout that process. Having had the experiences as a player gives us the confidence to be able to say those things, but more importantly, that they are received by the players because they know we have done it before they have.”
For the past decade, Banks has spent most of his time coaching youth and high school players to help them ascend the playing ladder. Now, he’s working with the best players in the world.
“For me, I have tried to keep my line of coaching the same way I have in the past. If I see something that they can improve upon, I want to be able to communicate that to them. I am really pleasantly surprised by their reactions to that,” Banks said.
The players seemed very receptive to the coaching staff’s approach, particularly in light of the fact that all three had great success as players at the collegiate level and in the MLL.
“It’s remarkable the talent they bring, the experience they bring and they are diehards for this sport,” said returning attacker Dylan Donahue. “They will do everything they can to build the best team that they can.”
From an offensive perspective, Donahue appreciates what Banks is trying to instill.
“Everything Coach Banks has said makes a lot of sense to me, and there is always a reason behind it. He played in a similar system in college and I know he learned the game from some of the best on the [Long] Island,” Donahue said, “He brings so much experience to it, it’s awesome. You’ll hear him say there is a fine line between playing at a fast pace and being out of control. Our goal is to play fast and move the ball fast so that the defense can’t react, but with control and comfortably.”
Newcomer Matt Gibson, acquired during the off-season along with Tommy Palasek from the New York Lizards, also likes what he has heard and seen thus far.
“Here, it seems they are taking a more of an ensemble approach than what we had in New York,” the former Yale All-American said. “Liam laid out a few points. He doesn’t want one guy holding the ball. He wants us to bang it around. He doesn’t care who you are. He wants us to be a team. Those are all the things that resonated with me so that makes me excited because I like to move the ball very quickly.
“Liam obviously knows the MLL game and the sport very well. He was a phenomenal player and played in the league,” Gibson emphasized. “He has done everything that we are trying to do.”
Two-way middie Justin Pennington, who is set to enter his ninth MLL season, noticed a difference during the first weekend of camp.
“I am really excited about this season. I think the team took some good strides last year and I think this year we can really make a run to the playoffs. It’s definitely exciting,” Pennington said.
Banks was particularly pleased with the attitude of the players and the vibe surrounding the team in the community.
“A lot of guys are excited to be back here and playing and the lacrosse community is excited. I am surprised how quickly we have been able to bring about the excitement of the upcoming season,” Banks said.
“A couple of guys that I was expecting to come in and perform well have done so thus far, which is a positive note,” Banks stated. “Some other guys we’d like to see take the next step forward over the coming weeks. We are certainly going to have a fight for first-game starters at the midfield spot and at attack.”
Phase two of training camp is set for April 14-15.