BRADENTON, Fla. – Team USA stepped up to the challenge.

After escaping Florida for a one-goal win on Saturday at IMG Academy at the annual Team USA Spring Premiere, the U.S. women’s national team took the time to take a step back to analyze their “lackadaisical” play, as described by coach Ricky Fried. Team USA was outperformed by the Gators in key areas like the overall fight they had in themselves and their team to battle back and overcome mistakes.

Following internal discussions between players and coaches, and between teammates, the U.S. women appeared well rested Sunday morning as they took on Notre Dame with a different mindset that small plays lead to big plays. Team USA downed the Fighting Irish with a dominant 22-5 showing, never allowing consecutive goals. 

“It’s tough to play us after we don’t play particularly well because everyone has a little more chip on their shoulder,” said Fried. “That was pretty telling today that everyone had a mentality of ‘OK, this isn’t going to happen again and we’re going to go out and dominate the way we’re supposed to.’”

Sunday’s game was a stepping stone to improvement – and ultimately growth in team play, rather than individual efforts – which will better serve the Americans when faced with international competition at the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Women’s World Cup in Guildford, England, this July.

The ability to turn around from a tough game and refocus is a testament to the United States’ resolve to continue being the best team in the world.

Here are five takeaways from the final showing of Team USA before world competition:

1. The X’s and O’s improved.

The fight was there.

“That is who we are,” said Team USA defender Jen Russell. “We are a team and we work together and we’re very much a unit. Not only attack and defense, that’s across the board. You could see it in our ride. It’s a whole team ride. We just went back to who we are and what we’re about and trusted our systems and each other and enjoyed playing together.”

Fried noted the biggest differences between their games against Florida and Notre Dame were the draw and the ride, which ultimately led to more possessions. Cleaner play led to fewer turnovers and less fouls, and ball security improved significantly to limit open passes downfield for Notre Dame and more crisp passes for Team USA to speed up transitions.

“The ride was definitely better from the backend,” said Fried. “On the offensive end, we showed better we were able to transition the ball without having to carry it as long. That was a positive and one of the points of emphasis. We were cleaner on ground balls quite frankly. We fought a lot better than we did yesterday.”

TEAM USA VS. FLORIDA BOX SCORE

TEAM USA VS. NOTRE DAME BOX SCORE

2. Veteran leader Devon Wills shared her insight.

Veteran goalie Devon Wills, a two-time gold medalist, didn’t compete as she was recovering from an injury, but she was able to get a similar perspective as the coaches watching from the sidelines. The main kink in the U.S. system against Florida was individual play, rather than team play.

“Naturally, at any level, when things aren’t going your way, you try to make a big play to get the momentum back and everybody just felt that responsibility that they had to do something to fix the momentum,” said Wills. “Today, it was a focus on how can I make my teammate better and just starting small. Small plays lead to big plays.”

With the opportunity to improve from their game against Florida and get back on the same page, she noticed a better connection between players on the field with improved communication and appropriate responses to each play.

“We learned a lot,” said Wills. “It was physically and mentally demanding and I think the staff did a great job making it what it’s actually like at a World Cup because the stress is always there, the pressure’s always there and you always want to do well. I think this weekend was a good learning experience and I think the best thing about it is we had a tough day and then responded to it with a good day.”

3. The women invested a lot to get here.

The last World Cup was four years ago. Team USA defeated Canada 19-5. But international competition has improved, and so must the Americans.

It’s been a four-year process of selecting training squads for the national program, with roster sizes increasing and decreasing at various points since 2013. Each member of Team USA put in the extra hours to train physically and mentally to represent their country in the best way possible – and Fried wants to make sure they get recognition for it.

“The biggest takeaway honestly is just the amount of energy that this group invests,” he said. “They’re all great individual players. They’re all great at every level that they played, but now they come here and become a part of the team and put the team ahead of themselves. They do a tremendous job of that and they don’t get enough credit for that. They just get looked at for their athleticism and skill, and really I would want everyone to know how much they put into this with each other.”

“It was a grueling weekend and they didn’t flinch,” Fried added.

4. It’s time to reflect.

With all the fitness tests, all the practices and games, and all the team meetings, Team USA wouldn’t be in this good of a position for the final selection if it weren’t for the players who came before them, including the players who were once a part of this current four-year process.

“There are those moments when you’re happy for yourself and then you’re happy for everybody, but you’re also really thankful for everyone who’s gone through this process with you because every single person here, and for all the rounds we already had, they’re responsible for what’s going to happen in July,” said Wills. “They’re all part of Team USA. They all prepared for the World Cup. It’s that time to get excited and come together as a group of 18, but I think you still have to reflect and be grateful for all those people who have come before you, whether it’s past World Cups or previous teammates through this process with what they’ve done to get you where you are.”

For Russell, playing with Team USA is about remembering why you love the sport, play the sport and want to represent the sport on an international level.

“At the end of the day, there’s a team that’s selected,” said Russell. “So we just reminded each other to go back to why we play, why we love the game – just remembering how much of an honor it is to play on this team and how few chances any of us get to do that. Just enjoy it.”

5. A roster selection is next.

The U.S. World Cup training roster that competed in the Team USA Spring Premiere featured eight attackers, eight midfielders, six defenders and three goalies.

Ultimately, 18 players, plus two alternates, will represent Team USA at the World Cup this summer. Fried said he and his coaching staff knew that they would only select two goalies and five defenders, so just one will get cut from each position, but the attack-midfield combination was up in the air. They could select four attackers and seven midfielders, or five attackers and six midfielders, meaning the offense will see the biggest cut.

“There’s some kids that are locked in right now from our standpoint,” he said. “There’s some kids that aren’t. There’s a small number of bubble kids that we have to talk about. The challenging piece is to figure out what makes sense for us as a group.”

It’s not always about finding the best players, but the right players to represent the United States successfully in England. Who plays well with whom?

“The most challenging part is the fact that you have to select people, or cut people,” said Fried. “They’re all the best players. If we’re just picking by talent, it doesn’t really matter who we pick. They’re going to be fine. I think a big part of it’s going to be, again, combinations who we think works well together [in] specific areas of need. Those are going to be the deciding factors at the end of the day.”

The players understand, too, how challenging it is, but whoever the final 18 are will compete with honor and make the Americans proud.

“Whoever those final 18 are will just go forward and try to represent not only our country and not only themselves and the team that’s on the field, but everyone who has come before them,” said Russell. “This is an exciting time for us. We’ve worked really hard to get here over the last three and a half years so we’re looking forward to showing that on the field with the final 18.”

Stay tuned for the U.S. women’s World Cup roster later this week. 

Team USA Sweeps Spring Premiere

The U.S. women and men swept their opponents at the Spring Premiere. Check out recaps and links to stream replays.

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