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The first day of the Fall Classic was a lesson in consistency for the U.S. women's national team after dominating North Carolina 20-7, never trailing, but then falling behind to Team England 5-0 before making a comeback to secure the 20-13 victory.
Team USA's games saw a reverse in results midway through the first halves. Against the Tar Heels, the U.S. was up 5-1 thanks to a four-goal run with 15:47 to play, but was down 5-1 at the 17:56 mark against England when Ally Carey tallied the Americans' first goal. Team USA shut out North Carolina 8-0 in the second half and flipped the script against the English, outscoring them 13-5 after the break.
U.S. coach Ricky Fried noted his team's strengths center around the "quantity and quality of depth" that its rivals cannot match because of Team USA's unrelenting pressure, fast pace and strict discipline, which was clearly displayed against North Carolina.
However, the English exposed holes in the U.S. offensive end when challenged with a zone defense that showcased a high sense of urgency, leading to the Americans' being reactive, rather than proactive, and playing individually, rather than as a team. Team USA was impatient with the ball, lacking decisive clarity that caused forced passes and turnovers while creating open lanes for England to score goals in transition. Yet ultimately, the Americans increased their patience and confidence levels to turn the tides.
"The biggest lesson is what we talk about – about wearing people down," said Fried. "People are going to come out and they're excited to play the U.S. We have the big target. This is the team they want to play their best against and win the game. We've got to understand that, but we've got to be able to know that they can't sustain that level of play or energy or intensity for 60 minutes. We just have to trust in what we do and we have to trust each other."
Team USA finished the day undefeated with impressive showings from veterans and newcomers.
Of note, Stony Brook junior Kylie Ohlmiller, a recent addition to the roster, fit right in, scoring a team-high six goals against North Carolina, while adding one assist to tie former Syracuse standout Michelle Tumolo for a team-best seven points. Tumolo, "a great facilitator" for the U.S. offense according to Fried, led the Americans with six assists.
Against England, it was Alyssa Murray, Tumolo's former college teammate, who carried Team USA's offense with five goals and two assists, but Tumolo continued to be a threat with a hat trick and three assists. Attacker Alyssa Leonard and defender Jen Russell ensured their presence was known in the midfield with five and four draw controls, respectively.
While individual performances stand out on the stat sheets, at the end of the day, it's about teamwork. Fried's coaching staff emphasizes the process of the play, rather than the result.
As they continue to evaluate the roster in search of the 18 players and two alternates that will represent Team USA at the 2017 World Cup in Guildford, England, Fried said it doesn't matter who completes the play because every member of the U.S. women's national team is capable of finishing shots, intercepting the ball or picking up a ground ball. The wealth of talent is ever-present as the players battle for one of those final 18 spots.
"You could see everyone really wants this," said Fried. "They're willing to put their own personal goals aside to play for each other. You can't really teach that or coach that. It's got to be a personal decision. They have done a great job of passing that down through the ranks to each other."
United States Leaders
vs. North Carolina: Kylie Ohlmiller (6 goals, 1 assist), Brooke Griffin (4 goals, 1 assist), Alex Aust (3 goals, 2 assists), Danielle Etrasco (3 goals), Michelle Tumolo (1 goal, 6 assists)
vs. England: Alyssa Murray (5 goals, 2 assists), Michelle Tumolo (3 goals, 3 assists), Alyssa Leonard (3 goals, 1 assist), Alex Aust (3 goals), Marie McCool (3 goals)
Australia's Feeling Confident
Australia coach Trish Adams wondered whether this week's rigorous schedule was going to be too much for her team, which included practices every day at the US Lacrosse headquarters, plus scrimmages against Navy and Towson before competing in the Fall Classic this weekend. However, going 2-0 against rivals Australia and Canada has the Aussies looking ahead to next summer.
"I can see a lot of confidence building within the team and each other and I'm really happy with that," said Adams. "The chemistry is building every time we're together. While there are only three states in Australia, our states are so far spread and it's expensive for us to get together, so the on-field has been fantastic and invaluable, but also the off-field, just having the time to spend together and get to know each other in a different way. That's starting to build the relationships that are so important to play connected."
Grit, determination and composure define the Australian style of play, according to Adams. Fundamental defensive strategies allowed the Aussies to emerge victorious, doubling England star Megan Whittle and throwing different sets at Canada, holding key players like Selena Lasota scoreless.
As Australia is the only other country than the U.S. to win gold, Adams is excited to see Saturday's results go in their favor since the Aussies missed out on the gold medal game in 2013 when Canada earned silver.
"The belief is there for this group," she said. "Being a lot of young fresh faces, there's an innocence about them and I love that they're not afraid of anything. I think that really helps. They are just lacrosse players whether they're playing for Canada, U.S. or England. They're lacrosse players like us and that's the message I'm trying to sell to them."
vs. England: Hannah Nielsen (4 goals), Rebecca Lane (2 goals, 2 assists)
vs. Canada: Hayley Sofarnos (3 goals), Bonnie Wells (3 goals), Rebecca Lane (1 goal, 3 assists)
Canada's a Work in Progress
While the Canadians are off to a tough start at the Fall Classic, falling to Australia by three after trailing at halftime by just one, they dominated the draw battle 17-8 and tied the Aussies with 13 ground balls apiece. The game saw seven ties before Australia pulled away in the second half.
"I thought we worked hard for 60 minutes," said Canada coach Scott Teeter. "We've been battling over the last decade. It's been an Australia-Canada battle. Having one more camp ahead of us would give them the edge, so that was a little bit of the difference."
While Australia is farther along in the selection process with a roster size of 23 compared to Canada's of 40, Teeter recognized the need for his team to value the ball better, limit turnovers and continue to learn his offensive and defensive systems. However, this weekend serves as another positive step in the process to returning to the gold medal game.
"They'll gain this experience and be better next time," said Teeter.
vs. Australia: Claire Mills (3 goals), Danita Stroup (3 goals), Cian Dabrowski (2 goals, 1 assist)
Hope on the Horizon for England
Despite two losses in the record books, England impressed in ways that its rivals may not have expected. Most notably, its compact zone defense against the Americans threw them a curveball, plus its goalie Izzy McNab was new to the mix after not being able to play when Team USA traveled to England for its foreign tour over the summer. She recorded nine saves.
"It gave us a bit of confidence," said England coach Phil Collier. "[Going up] five-nil [against the U.S.] was probably a bit of surprise both ways really, so that was really good. Then it gave us something to play for."
Adding their performance against Australia to their efforts against the U.S. provided hope for the future. After being down 5-1 nearly 10 minutes into the match, the English came back to lead 7-6 at halftime. That comeback mentality had them thinking back to their two appearances in gold medal games.
"The last time we won a silver medal was back in 1993, so we've got to be realistic with our expectations but I would say reaching the final is a realistic goal," said Collier. "We have to beat Australia or Canada to get there, but that's going to be a goal."
vs. Australia: Laura Merrifield (3 goals), Jenny Simpson (2 goals, 1 assist)
vs. United States: Olivia Hompe (2 goals), Megan Whittle (2 goals), Camilla Hayes (2 goals), Jenny Simpson (2 goals)
Lessons Learned for North Carolina
One of the most exciting matchups of the day was the United States against North Carolina. While it was a dominating 20-7 decision for Team USA, it pitted the reigning NCAA Division I champion against the reigning gold medalist, and Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy couldn't have been more appreciative.
"We obviously feel lucky to be a part of this," she said. "It's a great opportunity to learn about becoming a better lacrosse player and how to make adjustments when things aren't going our way. Obviously, we didn't do that very well today, but it's good to go home with something to work on."
Despite the loss – and despite playing international rules with four players on the circle instead of two at the college level – the draw remained solid for North Carolina. The U.S. won the overall battle 16-13, but fifth-year senior Sammy Jo Tracy controlled nine of those 13 draws. Team USA threw all possible options against her.
"She's special," said Levy. "I was really happy with some of the things she did in the draw. I think overall the draw was a good highlight for us. But I think there's a lot we're going to take away from this and learn to get better."
North Carolina Leader
vs. United States: Carly Reed (4 goals)