December 10, 2013

A Woman in MLL? Where There's Wills, There's a Way

by Matt DaSilva | | Twitter

Team USA goalie Devon Wills is among nearly 500 hopefuls enlisted in Wednesday's supplemental draft. If selected, she could become the first woman to play in Major League Lacrosse. (Photo by John Strohsacker)

Blog: Wills Vies to Become First Woman in MLL

After winning her second World Cup gold medal in four years, U.S. women's national team goalie Devon Wills decided another four years would be too long to wait for her next big competitive challenge. On Wednesday, Wills hopes to become the first woman in Major League Lacrosse.

Wills, 29, is among nearly 500 MLL hopefuls enlisted in Wednesday's supplemental draft. If selected, she could join Ginny Capicchioni, a former National Lacrosse League goalie with the New Jersey Storm, as the only women to break the gender barrier in pro lacrosse history. Capicchioni played in the Storm's 2003 season finale, making seven saves and allowing six goals in 11 minutes. Jen Adams was drafted by the NLL's Washington Power in 2001, but she never played in the league.

Wills, a Colorado native and assistant women's lacrosse coach at USC, said she was approached by a couple of MLL teams last spring, but declined to name them.

"It's kind of been in the works for a while. It's such an incredible opportunity to not only grow as a player and grow as a coach, but also to help grow the game," Wills said Tuesday. "At first I just thought it was an interview getting thoughts on if a girl could potentially play in the men's game. They could consider a lot of people to do it. I'm sure I'm one of the only people who would say yes."

Wills has excelled in the women's game not only as a two-time All-World goalie, but also as a field player, most notably earning MVP honors at the 2009 Vail Lacrosse Shootout. But she intends to vie for an MLL roster spot as a goalie — even if it means facing shots upward of 100 mph in training camp.

"It's definitely going to be an adjustment. It's going to make me a better goalie. That's a big part of this decision, just wanting to get better every day," she said. "The speed of the game is going to be an adjustment, just in pace, movement and shots. It helps me revert back to how this all started — me being a goalie and focusing on the correct technique."

Wills led Dartmouth to the 2006 NCAA semifinals. Michigan men's lacrosse assistant coach Ryan Danehy, who also played for the Big Green, tweeted his support for Wills on Tuesday. "She's the real deal," he said.

Wills said she consulted with Team USA coach Ricky Fried, who played professional indoor lacrosse in the 1990s, and Brendan Loftus, the former Syracuse midfielder who played for four different MLL teams from 2008-11, before making the decision to enter the supplemental draft. Loftus now is an assistant business manager in the athletics department at USC. 

"He was a great sounding board for me in terms of, 'Could I even handle it?' I have a ton of respect for the players in the MLL. I wouldn't want to disrespect them by thinking I could just come in and play," Wills said. "It all comes down to as a kid, you want to be a professional in the sport you play. This is just a huge opportunity."

Wills otherwise kept her decision quiet until the MLL released a list of eligible players Monday, when she was in Washington, D.C., after a U.S. team training weekend.

"Doing this is not in any sort of way a reflection that I've outgrown the women's game or am done with the U.S. system. It's more looking at this as an opportunity to learn a different perspective of the game as a whole. There are a lot of benefits to the men's game that could be applicable to the women's game," Wills said. "The U.S. team is still my priority."

The MLL's supplemental draft will consist of 12 rounds and teams can build their rosters from the current 23-player size to a maximum of 40 players. The league opened its player pool to applicants in November. Attackman Nick O'Reilly, who is no longer at Virginia, and MLL veteran Chazz Woodson are among some of the notables in the player pool, which also includes players from the previous MLL season who were left unprotected when teams submitted their 23-player rosters Nov. 12.

Last year, National Lacrosse Hall of Famer Mark Millon went No. 1 overall in the supplemental draft to the Rochester Rattlers, but played in only three games during the 2013 season. Casey Powell was selected with the 32nd pick by the Chesapeake Bayhawks and helped the franchise win a league title after being lured out of MLL retirement.

"The MLL is about having the best players in the world playing in our league," MLL Commissioner David Gross said in a press release Tuesday. "If a team deems Devon worthy of being drafted, we fully welcome her being given that opportunity and would look forward to having her suit up and play next season."

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