Thunder No Match for U.S. Top Talent During Tryouts
|Veteran goalie Devon Wills impressed in and our of the cage during tryouts for the U.S. women's national team, displaying her athleticism in her signature pressure defense by stepping out of the crease numerous times. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)|
Team USA Tryouts
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The three-day tryout process for U.S. women's natonal team at Georgetown University had an unexpected slow start due to thunderstorms, but the pace soon picked up as the skies cleared. It catapulted players — and coaches — into a competition-filled afternoon donning the red, white and blue.
Of the 84 players expected to try out, only 81 stepped onto the Multi-Sport Field to vie for a spot on the roster. Midfielder Kelyn Freedman elected not to try out early Friday morning, dropping the tryout pool to 84, and later, defenders Taylor Virden and Maddy Lesher, as well as goalie Kendall McBrearty, also opted out.
How did this crop of American talent perform under stress?
"The lightning strike was a first for me to come out and have to go right back in, but I've been really impressed," said Katrina Dowd (Northwestern, 2010), the team's leading scorer from the 2013 FIL World Cup with 26 goals.
"[Team USA head coach] Ricky [Fried] always comments that it's not the best players that make the team — it's the players that play best together," Dowd continued. "That's true when we go to a World Cup when we narrow it down that small, we want to have a group that has great chemistry, works hard and feeds off of each other. In a tryout, we can still look for that. We go through three days so we can really tell who plays well together, who's working hard, who's a good teammate. I think they're really looking for people who can step up and be great teammates and great people out there."
The new revamped application process and bumping up the tryouts to June allowed Friday's participants to become part of a stronger pool, as Fried described. He witnessed first-hand the benefits of this streamlined path to the next World Cup.
"When we used to play in August, at least when I tried out, we would have a break after the season and have to re-train to be in game shape again," said Mikaela Rix (Boston College, 2015). "I think that everyone is in game shape and ready to go and it's really great. First session down. Five more to go."
Fried, his coaching staff and selection committee are faced with a tough challenge to fill the holes in the roster with only nine players returning from the 2013 World Cup champion team. They have a wealth of talent to observe and evaluate — and a lot of young talent. About 75 percent of those trying out — including the top high school recruit and incoming Maryland freshman Megan Whittle — graduated this year or will in 2015 or beyond.
"One, you have to give her props for putting in the application and wanting to try out," said Fried, who knows Whittle fairly well because his wife was her field hockey coach at McDonogh (Md.). "This first day, she has shown that she is just going to play lacrosse and she is not going to be afraid. I was excited to see that. She's a confident young lady. She works very hard and it's exciting to see her out here.
"What she will take away from this weekend is just the speed of the game and the quality of the play and she's going to carry that onto next year. She's one of those players who learns a lot from her experiences, and however this goes, she'll take away a great deal."
Whittle was definitely among those players who impressed during the first day of tryouts as she whipped out a behind-the-back pass in one of the very first drills. Veteran Kelly Rabil (James Madison, 2007) noticed her as well and took the time to assist her on the field. As Rix said, "It's not like you're just one out for yourself. Everyone is here to play for the USA Team and it starts here at tryouts."
"It was a long time ago that I was there and I was never her age, but I still remember some of the older girls that helped me and those are the lasting impressions that really got me through to how I'm still playing today," Rabil said. "I enjoy that. She's really good and I can learn a lot from her. As much I help her, I hope that she can help me. It's kind of a give and take. It's always nice to reach out and help."
Who else impressed on day one? Let's take a look at a standout trio for each position.
Katrina Dowd (Northwestern, 2010) – Dowd was a leader on the field, beating defenders left and right in various drills, from 1v1 to 7v7 cross-field scrimmages. Seeming to lack nerves as a tried-and-true vet, she easily dodged to feed inside, tripping up her defender on the net.
Erin McMunn (Princeton, 2015) – As a member of the 2011 World Champion U.S. women's national under-19 team, McMunn made it obvious that she was ready to take the next step and represent her country on the senior team. She was a lethal threat in each offensive set, faking high and scoring low with an effortless side-arm shot to the back of the net.
Kayla Treanor (Syracuse, 2016) – Treanor is always one that will continue to impress and get better each day. The 2014 Tewaaraton Award finalist and Division I's leader in points did what she knows best — quick dodges around the crease with just a flip of the stick to get the ball in the cage. Drill after drill, Treanor remained an unstoppable force.
Caitlyn McFadden (Maryland, 2010) – The 2010 recipient of the Tewaaraton Award still has what it takes to be among the best in the nation. McFadden stepped onto the Multi-Sport Field like she was still playing for her Terps, never skipping a beat no matter the drill. Her quick stick goals stood out with each one she notched.
Kelly Rabil (James Madison, 2007) – Easily one of the most, if not the most, vocal player out there, Rabil knew what it takes to be a member of this USA Team and served as a guiding force for many on the field. From leading the stretches while busting out some dance moves with Lindsey Munday (Northwestern, 2006) to acting as a helpful player turned coach, Rabil's leadership was easily backed up by her speed and wealth of knowledge.
Mikaela Rix (Boston College, 2015) – Another U.S. U19 alum, Rix didn't seem to have that many nerves in tryouts, despite her saying otherwise. She commanded the offensive sets she was a part of and continually scored. As a midfielder, she displayed the ultimate hustle and bustle as she rode the ball on each clear.
Alice Mercer (Maryland, 2016) – With only one returning defender from the 2013 World Cup team (Jen Russell, North Carolina, 2010), Mercer was one of the most exciting players to watch on defense. She held strong with each challenge presented to her. Scenario after scenario, she forced attackers from behind the crease up and out of the 8-meter, and then caused turnovers.
Sloane Serpe (North Carolina, 2014) – This IWLCA All-American proved her worth as a defender who recently just graduated and doesn't want her lacrosse career to end. She applied great pressure on each attacker she faced, including one of Northwestern's top players this year – Alyssa Leonard. Leonard's speed did not faze Serpe, who fired her own jets when it was time to clear.
Morgan Stephens (Virginia, 2015) – The faceguard specialist who was key to Virginia's success in the NCAA tournament this year with a tight matchup against Treanor, Stephens was aggressive with every play, forcing the offensive players out and to the sidelines. She could fit into Team USA's defensive style well.
Devon Wills (Dartmouth, 2006) – It was no question that Wills took the spotlight in Friday's tryouts. She is the oldest and most experienced player of all positions and will be a true mentor to any newcomers who join the roster. After just the first session, Fried credited Wills for her extreme worth ethic, both technically and physically. Her athleticism was as visible as ever as she ventured out of the cage as a part of her signature pressure defense.
Liz Hogan (Syracuse, 2011) – Hogan's agility in goal was evident in each drill, as she stayed toe to toe following Wills' example. Just like Wills, Hogan found communication to be key and successfully directed the defenders in front of her to be able to come up with those 50-50 ground balls. She also intercepted the ball quite a few times right in front of the net from passes meant to be an assist on goal.
Kelsey Duryea (Duke, 2016) – Although Wills and Hogan were the two goalies that stood out the most, Duryea still made a striking impression with some tough saves that garnered a lot of ooh's and ah's from the staff on hand.
These are only three players per position that made a statement the minute they walked on the field. There are several others the coaches will be keeping an eye on, including this year's Tewaaraton Award winner Taylor Cummings, Northwestern's Alyssa Leonard, who showcased her quick stick skills, Maryland midfielder Kelly McPartland, who whipped past her defenders with ease to score, North Carolina's Laura Zimmerman, who played like an experienced veteran and goalie Caylee Waters, who kept up with Wills and Hogan as the three of them were grouped together to take on the goalie drill where they could only use a field player's stick to stop the ball.
"The new schemes we threw in with the high pressure defense throws everybody off at first but they will get the hang of it," said Wills. "There's a lot of talent out there. It's going to be a great team no matter what."
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