June 15, 2009

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All Fun and Games for U.S. World Cup Team

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

U.S. World Cup team head coach Sue Heether says to expect the unexpected from Team USA in Prague, specifically from attackers like Caroline Cryer and Katie Rowan. The FIL World Cup commences with opening ceremonies Wednesday.

Team USA Schedule | Event Site

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When head coach Sue Heether sees Team USA on the field, she feels a rush of varied emotions.

There's pride, certainly, and excitement. The 18 women she chose to represent the U.S. at the 2009 Federation of International Lacrosse Women's World Cup in Prague, Czech Republic, this month comprise one of the finest teams ever assembled at a moment of exciting growth and expansion for the sport. She feels determined to put the World Cup back in American hands after 2005's loss to Australia.

There's also a twinge of envy. Her players have speed. They have stick skills. But most importantly, they have fun.

"They have a great time. I'm very jealous because as a staff you watch it happen, and you know if you've had that group and that feeling, which I've been a part of on many different teams, you remember that," says Heether.

You can almost hear the inner monologue: God, that looks fun. I wish it was me.

Team chemistry is all well and good, but this brand of fun is more than that. Team USA's sense of play brings an inventiveness to the game that transcends the skills built by sprints or wall ball.

There's no doubt in Heether's mind that the U.S. is the best team in the tournament. Winning the gold is now a matter of collaboration and execution.

"The notion of fun can't be taught. It can only be felt, and you can't bring it out of someone. It just happens. They just love it from their toes to their hair," says Heether.

While the roster is peppered with college lacrosse stars, Heether says to expect the unexpected from Team USA.

"You don't get to know how we're going to use a Caroline Cryer versus how she's used at Duke. They might have all the film in the world of her at Duke, but that's not her role on the U.S. team," says Heether.

Cryer (5'9"), along with Syracuse's Katie Rowan (5'11"), will be the twin towers of the American attack. Heether saw Rowan put up two goals and six assists against Loyola this spring, and thought she was underutilized. She was also impressed by the lanky attacker's toughness.

"Somebody ran into Katie Rowan, and she just didn't move. The Loyola kid fell right down," says Heether, chuckling at the memory. "It's a brand new Katie Rowan because of the role she's going to play for us."

Rowan may shoot more than she feeds, and Cryer vice versa. In any case, opponents who study NCAA film might be cramming for the wrong test.

The Americans' defensive scheme is still on the drawing board. Granted, any combination of takeaway artists like Amber Falcone and Gina Oliver will probably get the job done. For a team that thrives on spontaneity, leaving a few things until the last minute could work particularly well.

The U.S. has employed the same strategy in World Cups past. Heether was a 29-year old goalie on the 1997 team when then-head coach Sue Stahl called the team into a Tokyo hotel room and announced that they were going to use an entirely new defensive strategy the next day in the championship game against the Australians.

Those players momentarily balked at the idea of executing a defense they'd never even discussed, much less practiced. But after a second of reflection, they decided they were game.

"Everyone was immediately in. You realize that if we all get on the same page really quickly, we can all achieve," recalls Heether.

The 1997 U.S. team achieved a 3-2 overtime victory over Australia. (Nice defense, eh?) The 2009 edition hopes for a similar outcome, but they are not overly concerned with past legacies, victories, or, ahem, losses. Heether sees a ferocious competitive drive her players, but it comes from within, not from external pressures or expectations.

"They're out there to win because they're competitive athletes. They're not out there to win to help the past," says Heether.

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