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PETERBOROUGH, Ontario — The largest World Lacrosse Women’s U19 World Championship in history — 22 nations — began yesterday with an unfamiliar face at the top of the pecking order.
The U.S. won four straight world championships from 1999 through 2011, but Canada shocked the U.S. 9-8 in the 2015 gold medal game in Scotland.
“It’s been a great four years of finally crossing that hurdle and being named world champions,” said Scott Teeter, Canada’s coach in 2015 and again for this championship. “What comes with that is the bullseye on your back gets a little bit bigger. We have to be ready for it. Right now, it’s just not one team to beat, which most World Cups have been in the past. Now it’s two teams.”
Canada and the U.S. and its Pool A counterparts, Australia and England, will begin play this evening. The U.S. faces Australia at 5 p.m. (Eastern) and Canada and England follows at 8. All 81 games from the event will be streamed live on Lax Sports Network.
Canada’s roster is made up primarily of players either already at U.S. colleges or committed to U.S. colleges. Teeter, the head coach at Louisville after a longtime run building the program at Canisius, has been upfront about what lies ahead for his talented squad.
“We’ve talked about the bullseye on the back and obviously we talk about the Americans,” Teeter said. “They’re skilled and they’ve made some adjustments to their protocols. They’ve got some fantastic players, which they had before. The fantastic players now are a little more experienced and a little bit older.”
Canada’s star in 2015 was Selena Lasota, then coming off of a monster freshman season at Northwestern. US Lacrosse guidelines at the time allowed only players who had yet to compete at the collegiate level to play on the U.S. U19 team.
As the organization shifted to recommending age-based segmentation at all levels of the sport, it did so for the U19 women’s team as well. That mirrored the men’s program, which had always allowed age-eligible players to compete regardless of college experience.
The result is the most experienced U.S. roster in history. Twelve of the 18 players have played at least a season in college, and one of the team’s two captains, Ally Murphy, has already finished two seasons at the University of Massachusetts.
Following the 2015 U19 championship intently was Lasota’s coach at Northwestern, Kelly Amonte Hiller. She had Northwestern players on the Canadian team (Lasota and Danita Stroup) and a committed recruit (Megan Kinna), as well as incoming recruits (Claire Quinn and Mallory Weisse) playing for the U.S. squad. A former U.S. World Cup star, Amonte Hiller was drawn to the opportunity to put the U.S. back on top.
She was named the U.S. head coach in early 2018 and much like her counterpart from Canada, has directly addressed the 2015 world championship with her team.
“We’ve talked a lot about the last time around with U19s. How they played well all along and they didn’t win the championship,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’ve talked about making us the barometer and trying to get better every time we step on the field. That’s really been our focus.”
Nearly 500 players applied to try out for this U.S. team and over 100 attended the first tryout last August. Since then, the team has held five training camps, three of them within the last two months.
“We have a really great group,” Amonte Hiller said. “They get along well, they mesh well together and they’re pretty motivated to do what didn’t happen the time around.”
Canada is obviously the main rival for the U.S., but there are other challengers as well.
“I think there’s a handful of teams that are really, really making their mark in the world that are progressing at a fast rate,” Teeter said.
Australia, which won the inaugural U19 championship in 1995 behind Hall of Famer Jen Adams, and England are chief among the traditional competitors, but world championship events are about much more than the competition on the field.
At Wednesday night’s opening ceremonies, the stars of the event were the members of the Kenyan national team, which is the first African nation to compete in a World Lacrosse women’s championship. There’s a spirit of camaraderie that exists at these events with teams sharing dorm room halls, eating meals in the same dining facilities and breaking out into impromptu singalongs.
Amonte Hiller got to experience that as a player, playing in three World Cups for the U.S. team from 1997 to 2005.
“It’s obviously a different experience as a coach and it’s new, but I think just being in the dorms and that whole experience, it does bring back memories from my experiences and those are cherished memories,” Amonte Hiller said. “I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to the experience and creating more memories together.”
For Teeter, playing this championship in Canada provides extra meaning.
“Being 20-plus years in the business coaching women’s lacrosse, I’ve never coached a women’s competitive game on Canada’s soil,” Teeter said. “I’ve run camps here, but never a competitive game. That’s special. My grandparents are going to come watch me in my profession for the very first time. A lot or my extended family, my high school friends are buying tickets, so it’s really quite a good feeling.”
For the 18 U.S. players and the coaching staff, the moment is finally here.
“I think it’s exciting to take it all in,” Amonte Hiller said. “I think our group has a great appreciation for being here and is just really excited about the experience and seeing what happens next.”
Thursday’s opening day featured seven games, including the first-ever wins in this event for China and Hong Kong. Jacelyn Lazore, a Virginia Tech recruit who received a US Lacrosse Tewaaraton Native American Scholarship earlier this year, scored six goals in the Haudenosaunee win over Belgium...complete scores follow:
Japan 20, Scotland 1
New Zealand 17, Wales 3
China 18, Jamaica 5
Germany 16, Korea - 8
Czech Republic 15, Mexico 5
Haudenosaunee 19, Belgium 1
Hong Kong 11, Israel 7
USA vs. Australia – 5 pm at Trent University
Canada vs. England – 8 pm at Trent University
Scotland vs. New Zealand – 12:30 pm at Fleming College
Wales vs. Japan – 3:30 pm at Fleming College
Korea vs. Kenya – 9:30 am at Fleming College
Germany vs. Jamaica – Noon at Fleming College
Ireland vs. Czech – 9 am at Fleming College
Chinese Taipei vs. Mexico – 3 pm at Fleming College
Puerto Rico vs. Hong Kong – 11 am at Trent University
Haudenosaunee vs. Israel – 2 pm at Trent University