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In The Box: Chat with Panther City Head Coach Tracey Kelusky

What have your impressions of training camp been thus far and taking it a step further what are your expectations for the group?

Our motto has changed – it is year three here and we have a strong nucleus now. [In previous training camps] we were evaluating everyone and we had to put together a roster dating back to year one. Last year was what are the glaring things we need to fix and the holes we need to replace. This year there are only a couple spots [open on the team], so for me this was about making sure that our core group came in in shape and in a mindset of wanting to compete. Elevating our standard right off the get go. We have seen that. That has been a pleasant surprise how well everyone received the message about coming in in shape and how critical it was for them. Everyone has come in in shape and everyone is chopping at the bit to get going and elevate our standard.

Something that you and General Manager Bob Hamley have preached this offseason is that you would like to see the group become bigger, stronger and faster – through two weeks of camp has that been evident to you?

Yes, for sure. Everyone understands the system – we will make some subtle tweaks, but a lot of that has to do with understanding our group. Yes, we have gotten bigger in the sense of if you look at [rookie forwards] Ryan Sheridan and Jason Knox. Two monster guys on the front side of the ball that are going to be by all accounts injected into our offense from game one. On that side of the [floor] we got bigger and then we addressed some of the needs on the back side. [Defenseman] Brandon Goodwin was brought in – he is a big body that likes to push the pace, so that checks two boxes and then the Mitchell kid [defenseman Brent Mitchell], who is certainly big and physical. Mentioning those four guys we have addressed those needs and again from my perspective it is about guys pushing the envelope as far as things we want to do in transition and how we want to play, which is fast and aggressive.

Entering year three with this group what is his measuring stick for success and what are the goals he has set for this team?

 At our initial meeting at training camp with this group [the message] was championship or bust. That mentality has always been at the forefront. I told our guys in year one we were one of 14 teams competing in the National Lacrosse League vying for a championship. That is our goal always. To put our best foot forward so that we are competing for a championship. This year no different than year one. That is our goal. The thing that resonated with me was that our captain [defenseman Matt Hossack] said ‘We didn’t think this would happen overnight.’ I don’t know if we did or not, but at the end of the day we took the necessary steps to understand what it looks like to get to that next level. That is a critical part of any team’s success – navigating it and figuring out what it takes and what is next. I think our guys have a pretty good understanding of what it looks like to play in the playoffs, which is great. What it looks like to get to the playoffs and how important the attention to detail is in every single game in a one-goal game in an ‘any given Sunday’ league. My mentality hasn’t changed since day one. Day one has always been championship, but I think we are longer in the tooth so to speak so that we are a little wiser to knowing exactly what goes into it from day one all the way to the weekly, and then back to process.

What does he hope to see from the offense in 2023-24?

We have always been, well maybe not always, but there is no denying the fact that ran our offense through Malcs [forward Will Malcom] on the left side and similarly it was through [forward Callum] Crawford and or [forward Jonathan] Donville on the right side. I think this year we are a little more balanced in what we are going to try to do offensively. That certainly helps when you add an outside shooter like Jason Knox on the left side of it and similarly when you add a guy who is very hungry to make things happen on the offensive side, Ryan Sheridan, on the right side. We are going to go by committee, which we always have, but I think there is something to be said about working cohesively and understanding each other’s tendencies, which the guys have another year under their belt. To be able to play with one another is great and again having another year of going about it and then inserting a couple guys who I think will fit in really well with our offense will only make us that much better.

On his thoughts on the defensive unit this season?

Last year we were pretty close to hitting our goal. Our goal, I believe we were slightly over, but [allowing] 10 goals a game. That is the bar we set. We have actually set higher standards for what our expectations are from a collective group. What I do like is the insertion of the Mitchell kid. He gives us a body that can punch back and provide a little bit of a head on a swivel for the offense guys we are playing when he is on the floor. Goodwin, who is a big body himself and likes to get up and down and plays with speed. For me, it boils down to year three with a nucleus of guys that have an understanding of how we want to play and certainly understanding, which is critical to defense, understanding what each other tendencies are and how to play alongside anyone at any given time. It has been good thus far and something that we will collectively build on.

Coming off a strong year from our transition players, how does that group continue to grow and what are his expectations from them this season?

Quite frankly, the stat line [says] that is where games are won or lost. On both sides of the ball we have to be aware of the importance of manufacturing in transition. You look at a guy like [defenseman] Evan Messenger who I think sometimes last year was getting his feet under him and was new to the league and maybe not coming in full of confidence. I am looking for big things from a guy like him. It is back to the same answer before. Guys have an understanding of how we are going to play and this is important piece of our success is to manufacture in transition and shut off transition. It is at the forefront of everything we are doing and we are going to continue to push the pace.

His message to Panther City fans and everyone in North Texas as year three approaches…

This is the best version of lacrosse in the world. These guys are the best lacrosse players on the planet. We are still budling. We are building a championship caliber team here and we are still wanting the fans of North Texas to get out and support us. It is year three and we are going to continue to build. Our guys are passionate about what we are doing and I encourage people to come out and watch the fastest game on two feet and the best lacrosse games on the planet.

Panther City Lacrosse Club