July 28, 2012

Team USA Tryouts: Veterans Reflect on Walker's Retirement

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Day Two of tryouts for the 2012-13 U.S. women's national team were held Saturday in hot Baltimore on the campus of UMBC.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

BALTIMORE — The longest, most grueling and possibly most important day of tryouts for the 2012-13 U.S. women’s national team tryout came and went Saturday. And while Day Two was as much about the players present, conversation centered on a notable absence: Acacia Walker, who on Thursday announced her retirement.
Walker, named Boston College’s head coach in late May, had been a long-standing U.S. national team program participant since 1999, as a member of the gold-medal winning Under-19 team. Her athleticism and positive encouragement emanated anytime she took the field for Team USA.
“We will all miss her out here, and to the veterans who have been playing with her for a while, her presence is known,” said All-World attacker Lindsey Munday, who was elected team captain earlier in July at the North American Challenge Cup. “It’s a decision she did not take lightly. We’re all out here playing for her and wishing she was still here. Above anything, she was so positive and happy to be on the lacrosse field, inspiring other people and playing for her teammates. It was infectious to everybody else.”
Said defender Regina Oliver, recently named head coach at Cincinnati: “I was really emotional and bummed about Acacia not trying out this year… She’s been a leader on this team for so many years. We’ve been through a lot of things together. I gave her a call [Friday] night to give me a pep talk, and keep me going. Her biggest thing was her positivity. Her game was always at the top. Her leadership and being a veteran, and keeping the young ones coming back and being there when you need someone to say, ‘You’re good. I’m with you.’”
But in Walker’s absence, veteran leadership became a recurrent theme.
Munday, the former Northwestern All-American and head coach at USC, chanted encouragement from the sidelines yelling, “Here we go U.S.” Later Munday — sitting out the tryouts while recovering from a broken left wrist — stood in the middle of the attack huddle and helped organize the unit during 5-on-4 drills.
“I try to be involved as much as possible,” Munday said. “It’s a really nerve-racking weekend for everybody, for veterans and for players who are trying out for the first time. I remember when it was my first tryout, so I just try to be positive and get people to open up as much as possible.
Attacker Kelly Berger and defender Holly McGarvie were especially vocal during drills. Oliver broke down the team into a slow clap at the start of the second session, then gathered the group together for a “USA” cheer.
“Everybody is really stepping up. The younger kids have been outspoken, and the veterans like Amber [Falcone], [Kelly] Berger and Sarah [Albrecht], and I could keep going on and on,” Jill Byers said. “Even Munday. She’s hurt. She’s on the sidelines. But she’s so supportive. I can her hear voice out on the field.”

Young Guns vs. Old School

Oliver smiled when asked if she looked around and noticed her veteran status. “It’s nice, because they’re running circles around me,” Oliver said, chuckling. “It’s great.”
Along with Megan Huether, Oliver is one of only two 2005 college graduates trying out. The rest graduated in 2006 or later.
“I’m kind of seasoned, knowing what we have to do and what they’re looking for. We’ve been really good about helping kids who are here for the first or second time, keeping them together,” Oliver said. “To be on my way out and see the new players with the fire in their eyes coming into tryouts having the same dream of wearing that Team USA garb is awesome.”
A few young up-and-comers stood out Saturday. Johns Hopkins midfielder Taylor D’Amore picked up several nice ground balls. Tewaaraton finalist Brittany Dashiell, a midfielder for Florida, initiated aggressively from up top.
Former U.S. Under-19 national team members Tatum Coffey, a midfielder for Penn State, and Kelly McPartland, a midfielder for Maryland, worked well within the offense.
“I’m so excited to be here, playing with my idols and people who I look up to,” Coffey said. “I’m so glad to be here with my U19ers. That was such a great experience, and we’re excited to get the chance to do it again.”
Meanwhile, fellow U-19 team leading scorer Cortney Fortunato is the youngest player at the tryouts. A rising senior at Northport (N.Y.) High, Fortunato finished a flashy behind-the-back shot in small-sided drills Saturday that attracted the attention of players observing on the sidelines. Several asked, “Who was that?”
“Cortney has been playing awesome,” Oliver said. “A lot of things are new for her, but she fits right in here.”

Selection Committee: “The Best 36”

Yale coach and women’s national team selection committee chair Anne Phillips said the final touring roster will comprise exactly 36 players. And from the 82 players trying out Phillips said the selection committee tries to “bring to the World Cup the 36 best players who play best together.”
The selection committee evaluates every player in four category descriptions: technically (stick work), tactically (lacrosse IQ), physically (speed, quickness, burst) and psychologically (mental toughness, leadership, intangibles). None of the selectors have players’ names; they only have their anonymous pinnie numbers.
“We’re trying to bring consistency and transparency to the process,” Phillips said.

News and Notes

- With temperatures in the low- to mid-90s in suburban Baltimore on Friday and Saturday, several players dealt with complications from dehydration. Midfielder Erica LaGrow (North Carolina ’08) didn’t miss any time, but required treatment. Defender Linley Block (Syracuse, ’13) and midfielder Nicole Price (Mount St. Mary’s ’11) participated Friday but not Saturday. The coaching and training staff took extra precautions, shortening training sessions and encouraging drinking fluids while forcing those not playing indoors.
- There were several late adjustments to the tryout roster. Defender Sam Farrell (Florida ’13) and defender Taylor Thornton (Northwestern ’13) did not make it to Catonsville. Attacker Kitty Cullen (Florida ’13) was out due to injury. Attacker Karri Ellen Johnson (Maryland ’12) was a late addition.
- A few injuries of note: Goalie Huether (Duke ’05), who suffered a concussion at the North American Challenge Cup, and attacker Danielle Spencer (Northwestern ’10), recovering from a torn hip labrum, were non-active participants. Defender Madeline Keeshan (Virginia ’14) broke three bones, including her ankle, about 15 minutes into drills on Friday. Keeshan said she “heard a pop” when the injury occurred. 2011-12 national team members Danielle Etrasco (Boston University ’13) and Kristin Igoe (Boston College ’11) are dealing with nagging injuries and have been in-and-out of drills. Defender Kristen Carr (North Carolina ’10) tweaked her ankle in Saturday morning’s session.
- Katrina Dowd, former Northwestern All-American attacker and U.S national team member since 2009, on Saturday was formally announced as an assistant at North Carolina under Jenny Levy. Dowd spent 2010 as an assistant with Denver and 2011 as an assistant for national runner-up Syracuse. “I’m really excited and psyched. It’s a great opportunity and Chapel Hill is such a special place,” Dowd said. “They had an opening, and I know Jenny well. I played against her for four years, and I worked Carolina’s camp, so she was familiar with my style — the way I coach, the way I play. And it seemed like such a good fit. The opportunity is perfect for what I’m looking for now. They’ve always done a tremendous job of recruiting, bringing in great athletes and lacrosse players.” Dowd leaves for Chapel Hill on Tuesday.
- Jillian Byers is headed back to Notre Dame. As introduced in late June, the All-American attacker will return to the Fighting Irish after spending three years as an assistant at Yale. After finishing tryouts this weekend, Byers will drive to South Bend and she starts full-time on Monday. “I’m ecstatic, and I can’t wait to be back,” Byers said. “I didn’t even know there would be an opening there. But it’s Notre Dame, and I couldn’t say no to my alma mater. I’ll hit the ground running right away, and the kids get back in a week-and-a-half. I’m really excited to go back home.”

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