June 23, 2013

Katrina the Explorer

By Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

A ferocious attacker, Katrina Dowd is one of the toughest players in the world to defend.
 

The following article originally appeared in the print edition of the June issue of Lacrosse Magazine, an exclusive benefit for the more than 400,000 members of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse now to help support the positive development of the sport, and receive Lacrosse Magazine delivered right to your mailbox.

On April Fool's Day 2008, Katrina Dowd got inked.

It happened at a downtown Chicago tattoo parlor. Dowd was in the midst of a breakout season as a junior attacker for the Northwestern women's lacrosse team. A few teammates joined her at the parlor.

Most college girls get hearts or flowers or butterflies. Dowd chose a single word, written in scrolling black script across the fair, freckled skin of her right arm: EXPLORE. It's a shortened version of a slogan from a poster she loves, depicting a lone cowboy beneath the phrase, "Explore the Wild West."

"I'm always different, and that word, that's just my being," Dowd said.

On the field, Dowd is unmistakable — white headband, stick held low, crazy dodges, crazier shots. She pushes the outer edges of what is possible to do with a lacrosse stick in pursuit of the newest, freshest moves.

"Playing defense on her is one of the hardest things I've had to do," U.S. team defender Holly McGarvie Reilly said. "Afterwards I feel dizzy. Her stick is like a third arm."

Dowd won NCAA national championships with the Wildcats. Her most memorable college moment came that same year, when she scored on a no-look, behind-the-back shot with 0.2 seconds remaining in overtime to tie Northwestern's NCAA semifinal against Penn. It was her record-setting 18th goal of the tournament, a feat that earned her the moniker "Miss May."

Four years later, Dowd will bring that flair to the international stage.

"It's always been a goal of mine to make the U.S. national team and compete for a gold medal," she said.

Dowd has been in the national team system since 2008. She traveled to Prague in 2009 as an unofficial alternate to the U.S. World Cup team — a last-minute potential replacement for injured attacker Whitney Douthett. But Douthett recovered in time to play. The U.S. went on to win the gold medal with Dowd watching from the sidelines.
Her watching days are over now.

Dowd made the final cut for the 2013 roster in January. Next month, she'll finally play the game at its highest level.

"Four years is a long time. And to wait on that, and to keep getting better, and keep working on your game? And finally, not only do you get the call and make the team, but you're a couple of months away from the real goal, which is winning a gold medal?" she said. "It's pretty surreal."

***

Dowd's nickname is Trix, a nod to her famous stick tricks, which were born of rec league boredom. While her teammates chewed on their mouth guards and gossiped with the rest of the shuttle line, Dowd popped the ball off her sidewalls and bent her little body like Gumby to do inverted cradles.

"During practice, there's a lot of standing around when you're little," she said. "I was never too good at that."

Dowd's older sister Noelle, a former All-Ivy League midfielder at Cornell, remembers Katrina cutting paths of destruction through the lacrosse field and the Dowd family home.

"She's broken so many things in my parents' house with that stick. It was always in her hand," Noelle Dowd said.

Dowd's stick tricks aren't magic, though. They are the result of hard work. Players who don't put in the hours perplex her. Doesn't everyone want to know how to score on a behind-the-back Twizzler?

"I just think it's very hard not to know all the tricks I know. It could easily become anybody's thing if you just put in a little bit of effort every single day," Dowd said. "I've put that pressure on myself to be capable of anything, because I want to handle the ball. I want to be able to handle any pressure, and be able to do any move. That expectation isn't always on girls, to be able to do everything. I want to do everything. It's just who I am."

To make the U.S. senior team, though, Dowd had to temper her Lone Ranger tendencies. Team USA uses a motion offense. It's a system that makes the most of dynamic players, but learning it can be a challenge for people who are used to being a team's go-to shooter.

"The premise of our offense is first and foremost, everybody's involved. There's a not a feeder and a finisher," U.S. coach Ricky Fried said. "We become very difficult to defend that way, when everybody's a threat. It's a setup where we're able to read the defense, and take advantage of what they give us."

At the North American Cup Challenge in July 2012, Fried and offensive coordination Liz Robertshaw had a come-to-Jesus discussion with Dowd about how she had to use her skills within the framework of the U.S. attack. When Dowd went off book to go 1-on-1 with a crease defender, it was confusing and counterproductive for her teammates, who were in the midst of a complex system of cuts and slides to open up shooting lanes.

Dowd, the player who wants to do everything, the grown-up version of the kid who couldn't sit still in practice, had to learn to play smarter instead of harder.

"They only take four attackers. If you want to be one of the four best attackers in the world, you better be able to look good no matter what you're playing," Dowd said. "You just gotta learn the ins and outs of it, and then you've got to put your moves into that offense. I like being new and fresh. But I also like being really good, and I'm really competitive. I'm not willing to be different and not good."

In the final game of the North American Cup Challenge, Dowd had three goals and two assists in a 15-11 comeback win against host Canada. Was it a prelude of things to come?

"That [attack] unit is so hard when they come together and I think for everybody, but especially for Katrina, Canada was that moment," said fellow attacker Lindsey Munday, who was also an assistant at Northwestern when Dowd played there. "It clicked for her in terms of really working with everybody else and being in the system, but still being able to have those moments where she can show her exciting play, stick work and shooting — all the things that make her Katrina."

***

Like any good explorer, Dowd is adept with directions, wired to get the lay of the land quickly and figure out all of the shortcuts in town. It's a handy skill for a person who has had three jobs in three years in three different cities.

Dowd was a volunteer assistant at Denver in 2011, then a full-time assistant at Syracuse in 2012. She helped the Orange reach their first NCAA championship game and seemed perfectly ensconced in coach Gary Gait's innovative, hands-on approach to the game. But then she hopped again, this time to North Carolina.

Now Dowd cruises around Chapel Hill on her Yamaha scooter. During one sunny April practice while the team was still stretching, she played catch with Kathryn Levy, the 6-year-old daughter of Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy.

Dowd's advice for young players is simple: find ways to fall in love with lacrosse.

"You can't take care of your size or your speed or where your coach plays you. But you can take care of how much you love the game," she said. "And the more you love it, the more you find ways to fall in love, whether it's watching high-level lacrosse, or getting out in your backyard and playing with your brother or your sister, or on a team. The more you're willing to give, the more you're willing to practice on your own and the more that you're willing to do things that take a lot of hard work, the easier it is."

Before too long, Dowd and Kathryn got bored with just passing around. They moved over to the goal to practice their behind-the-head shots. LM


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