The University of Pennsylvania encourages its students to go outside the box and develop their own unique interdisciplinary educational experiences.

Alex Roesner, for instance, spent the second semester of his freshman year focusing on modern Canadian-American relations.

His self-taught course was almost entirely centered around 20 seconds of an exhibition game played this January in Florida. The U.S. U19 team trailed Canada by one with 20 seconds remaining in overtime of a wild, back-and-forth contest. Roesner came underneath, saw his shot, and let it rip.

It clanged off the crossbar. Canada ran out the clock and won 14-13.
“That last play has been on my mind all winter,” Roesner said. “I tried to put it a little too high. An inch off.”

It shouldn’t be something worth such rigorous independent study. It was a play in which Roesner did all the right things, at the end of an exhibition game that all memory of will be erased the second the Americans and Canadians open up the Federation of International Lacrosse U19 World Championship against each other July 7 in Coquitlam, British Columbia. Besides, he scored four goals, including the overtime winner, in Team USA’s Blue-White scrimmage, last summer. No one doubts he can come up in a big spot.

But focusing on moments like the exhibition game is part of a very specific upper-body exercise Roesner does. It’s designed to strengthen the chip on his shoulder.

“A lot of kids who commit early get complacent,” Roesner said. “If you play like you have something to prove, it just sets you up for success.”

The chip was implanted permanently early in high school at Loyola Blakefield (Md.), when two of Roesner’s best friends committed early to colleges. One was current U.S. U19 teammate Ryan Conrad (Virginia), who spent his high school career as the country’s No. 1-ranked recruit. From that moment, Roesner used any perceived doubts about whether he was as good as his teammates to strengthen his chip.

“It puts a little pressure on you to succeed,” Roesner said.

Roesner committed to Penn as a sophomore. He’s happy with his choice, but said he still thinks the whole process starts too early. Earlier this year, an eighth-grader from Bay Shore, N.Y., committed to Penn State.

“You don’t really know how someone is going to develop until at least their junior year in high school,” Roesner said. “There’s no way to tell how an eighth-grader is going to adapt.”

But it could benefit teams that wait longer to recruit late bloomers. “A lot of people are going to fly under the radar,” Roesner said. “In the end it’s also a good thing, because it spreads things out and people end up at schools they may not have considered.”

Penn turned out to be a perfect fit for Roesner. Team USA offensive coordinator Pat Myers also runs the Quakers offense. An offseason playing in Myers’ motion scheme made the transition to college seem like an extension of the U19 training. Roesner finished the regular season fifth on Penn with 21 points.

The early success is no surprise. Roesner is a guy who wants the ball in his hands. But while he wants a chance to avenge the piped shot against Canada, he said won’t hesitate to pass it up if it means putting the game away. In Coquitlam, the open player might just be his old buddy Conrad, who fed him the winning pass in the Blue-White scrimmage.

Penn played Virginia at the end of February. It was the first time Roesner and Conrad had squared off since middle school. They both scored two goals, but Virginia won by five. It ended up being more fuel for the chip.

“It didn’t cross my mind until after the game,” Roesner said. “I had time to think about it. It’s obviously not fun to come out losing a game. And not seeing your friends from home for a while, it adds a lot of competitive fire. It makes you want to win that much more so you have bragging rights come the summer.”

In the end that’s all Roesner wants, to win. Because winning is fun. A permanent chip on your shoulder might seem like taking the fun out of the game, but Roesner does not think they’re mutually exclusive.

“You can 100 percent have fun with a chip on your shoulder,” he said. “When you look back on winning against people you worked harder than, it’s the best and most alleviating feeling in the world.”

He won’t be the only American playing with a chip on his shoulder this summer. The U.S. teams are in a bit of a slump. The U19 men suffered their first-ever losses in international competition in 2012, falling to Canada and the Iroquois in the round robin before avenging both defeats en route to gold. The 2014 senior men and 2015 U19 women both were upset by Canada in championship games.

“We haven’t proven anything yet,” he said. “We should play with a chip. We have something to prove not just by beating Canada, but by beating them twice. And it’s not just Canada. The game I focus on is always the next one. Canada is just the first one on the schedule.”

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