October 24, 2007

Oct. 24, 2007

by Clare Lochary, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

The British are coming! The British are coming!

Consider yourself warned. The Canadian pipeline and the thunder from Down Under are old news. The next wave of women's lacrosse immigrants comes from the UK. Lucy Lynch and Laura Merrifield, two English national team players, have signed with Division I programs and are set on making a stateside splash.

"They want the ability to train at the highest level," said English national team coach Lois Richardson.

England boasts some elite club teams, and the national team practices and tours the U.S. regularly, including an exhibition Monday against Johns Hopkins. But neither matches the intensity and skill level of the American collegiate game.

"It's a lot faster, and I'm getting used to the systems," said Lynch, who led Team England to a bronze medal at the 2005 IFWLA World Cup.

Lynch has been trying to get into the American game for a while. She dazzled World Cup spectators with her speed, and was close to signing with the University of Denver. But a coaching change and a broken leg (acquired during a most English pursuit, rugby) derailed her plans.

After a year-long rehab, Lynch reconnected with one of her World Cup opponents - James Madison assistant coach and former U.S. World Cup goalie Jess Wilk.

"The things I was most impressed with her was clearly her speed, but also her toughness. She did a lot of the little things for England," said Wilk.

Now Lynch has finally made her big move, emigrating from England to America to earn her masters degree in exercise physiology and to play midfield for the Dukes. She has been enjoying the benefits of NCAA athletics, particularly working with a trainer to rehab her leg and get back to her pre-injury level of fitness. That process is going smoothly. Lynch moves with a bit of stiffness, but is impressively toned and can smoke defenders at will.

By comparison, the process of acclimating to American life is going in fits and starts. Harrisonburg, Va., is very different from London, Lynch's hometown. When the English national team came to the United States for its annual tour this week, she reveled in the familiar cadence of English accents.

"It is very odd," said Lynch of being a foreigner in a small town. "I thought it would be really easy because I've traveled all over."

At 22, she's also the only graduate student on the Dukes' roster. James Madison coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe sees Lynch's differences as an asset for the team.

"It helps to broaden young minds and having different perspectives on life," said Klaes-Bawcombe. "We knew she had the maturity. Lucy's competitive experience has helped these girls see that they don't have to overthink things. It's just about playing on game day, being more confident and less mental."

Merrifield had a less circuitous path to the NCAA. She caught the eye of Maryland coaches Cathy Reese and Jen Adams (the same pair who once flirted with Lynch at Denver) last year during an English national team scrimmage. Adams attended this summer's IWLFA Under-19 World Championship in Peterborough, Ontario, to scout Merrifield, and came away convinced there was a place for her on the Terps' roster.

"She's very, very smart with the ball," said Adams. "She hustles, she's all over the field. I didn't see her let up once, even when her team was down by a lot."

At 6-1, Merrifield likely would have been funneled into basketball if she grew up in the States. Instead, she found a niche in lacrosse, and will enroll at Maryland starting in January.

Merrifield, 18, is currently nursing a sprained elbow, but plans to play for the Terps in the spring.

"It's for the better competition, really," Merrifield said of her transatlantic move. "In England, it's not as frequent as I'd like. Coming to America, it would be a more frequent thing on a steady basis."

If she needs some advice on competing abroad, Merrifield can turn to Adams, who is arguably the greatest thing America ever imported from Australia.

"It's overwhelming because of how athletics is treated here in the States. The professionalism it's approached with - scholarships, people giving you gear, sponsorships," said Adams. "It's a whole new world."

Two recruits do not constitute a full-scale British invasion, but Lynch and Merrifield have piqued the interest of their younger English national teammates. Coaches interested in drawing from nontraditional areas might do well to cast an eye across the pond.

News & Notes

Division III North Central College in Naperville (Ill.) has announced plans to field a women's lacrosse team. The Cardinals will take the field in the 2008-09 season. North Central is the first college in Illinois to offer D-III lacrosse...Masina Longo and Elizabeth Piselli have joined the women's lacrosse staff at C.W. Post, where they will assist first-year head coach Meghan McNamara. Longo played four seasons with the Pioneers before graduating in 2006. Piselli is a recent Stanford grad and former Cardinal captain...Former Georgetown goalie Maggie Koch has joined Gary Gait's staff as an assistant coach at Syracuse. Koch was a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year and the 2006 IWLCA Goalie of the Year for the Hoyas.

"The Loch-Down" is a weekly column on college lacrosse by LMO's Clare Lochary. Check back on Wednesdays for more offseason news and features. Send comments to clochary@uslacrosse.org.
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