January 25, 2011

Cook, U19 Team Brace for College Foes, Final Cuts at Champion Challenge

by Corey McLaughlin | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Champion Challenge

Attacker Jen Cook, who described the U.S. U19 team tryouts as "long, stressful and difficult," is one step away from making the final 18-player roster bound for Germany this summer.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Jen Cook is one of those high school players known by a good reputation. The attacker from McDonogh (Md.) is headed to the University of Maryland to play in 2011, and as a high school junior she helped lead her team to an undefeated 20-0 record and Lacrosse Magazine's year-end top national ranking.

But even she, one of the nation's top talents, was sort of overwhelmed by the enormity of the tryout process for the U.S. women's Under-19 training team. From regional tryouts to playing in the Women's Division National Tournament to this past August, when more than 165 girls from 25 states descended on UMBC for three days of tryouts. Twenty-four players were selected after rounds of scrimmages and individual evaluations.

"It was long, stressful and difficult," Cook said, but she was selected and is now looking to become one of the final 18 named to the U.S. team that will play at the FIL U19 World Championships Aug. 3-13 in Hannover, Germany.

The final cuts will be made after this weekend's Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event, where the U19 training team will face NCAA teams from Rollins College (4:30 p.m. Saturday) and Jacksonville University (7 p.m. Saturday). Cook is excited for the opportunity. It will mark the first time any U.S. U19 team has played against college-level competition.

"It's cool," she said. "I didn't really expect us to be doing that. But when I saw we were going to be playing a couple college teams, it's cool to be on the U19 team and a high school team and play against girls you're going to be playing against next year."

It will be a measuring stick of sorts for the U.S. players, all of whom are stars of their own high school or club teams and are headed to a variety of highly regarded women's lacrosse programs.

Cook, for one, made recruiting visits to Florida, North Carolina, Johns Hopkins and Maryland before deciding to become a Terp next year. The Towson, Md., native originally wanted to attend a southern school, but after attending the Maximum Exposure recruiting camp at Maryland, "I started reconsidering," she said. "Why wouldn't I want to go here? I liked the girls and the coaches. Then I went to visit, and it just felt right it was perfect."

Even better was last May, when Cook watched from the stands at Towson as some of her future teammates took down five-time defending national champion Northwestern, 13-11, in the NCAA final after trailing 6-0. "To come back after that to a team that good is incredible," Cook said. "It takes a lot."

So Cook heads into her senior season at McDonogh knowing she's bound for a lacrosse program that recently won a national title, and who knows, might win another this season. Just for kicks, she decided to play soccer for the first time this fall and was a backup goalie. She's enjoying time spent with the U19 training team, too.

Fellow U.S. player Shannon Gilroy, a star at Northport High School on Long Island who signed with the University of Florida, made a visit to North Carolina the same time as Cook.

"We became friends down there. She was always a huge rival, and everyone said she's so good," said Cook, who played club ball for Sky Walkers. "I became friends with her, and now we're on the same team. It's cool to play with people like that."

Of the U19 process in general, Cook said: "I knew a couple girls from Baltimore. I pretty much played against the majority of the team. I've seen all the girls before, but I'm starting to get to know them as people."

For more from Jen Cook, check out the "Give and Go" feature in the February issue of Lacrosse Magazine.Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event featuring the U.S. men's and women's national teams against top college programs, returns to ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Jan. 29-30, 2011. Click here for more information, including game and clinic schedules.

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