July 31, 2011

Vets, Rookies Mix at U.S. Women's Team Tryouts

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com

Lauren Schmidt, a veteran of the U.S. team system despite just recently completing her Stanford career, dodges a defender at 2011-12 women's senior team tryouts at UMBC.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

CATONSVILLE, Md. -- Gina Oliver just couldn't stay away.

"I just got the itch," said Oliver, a defender from the gold medal-winning 2009 U.S. World Cup team who came out of her brief retirement to try out for Team USA yet again. "I missed playing, I missed competing, and I missed my friends. I felt out of the loop."

Oliver is one of 12 women's national team veterans vying for a spot on the 2011-12 team, in a field of 78 of the nation's best players at tryouts this weekend at UMBC. But it was not so long ago that all of those veterans were rookies. The American squad that competed at the 2009 FIL World Cup consisted entirely of players new to the women's senior international game. Despite being green, they won gold in Prague, defeating a strong, experienced Australian team, 8-7, in the final.

Now those former newbies are the team stalwarts, who must simultaneously set an example for newcomers and secure a spot in the latest lineup.

"It's nice to be back. It's nice to be a veteran, but every year you have to play your best. It's so intense out there, because everyone's so good," said midfielder Caitlyn McFadden, another 2009 gold medalist.

McFadden stays active in the game as an assistant coach at the University of Florida, but hasn't had the chance to play in a team setting since she completed her college career at Maryland, where she led the Terps to the 2010 NCAA championship and won the Tewaaraton Trophy. She and Erica LaGrow, a fellow U.S. teammate and Gators assistant, push each other in workouts to stay in world-class shape. They keep their U.S. teammates in mind when they practice.

"You know your teammates are out there working hard. You definitely want to defend your title, and to have that chance again, that amazing experience," McFadden said.

Oliver retired shortly after the 2009 games, thinking that one world title would satisfy her. But as she made her way through the 2010 recruiting circuit as an assistant coach for Duquesne University, she kept running into other Team USA players, and realized how much she missed both her teammates and the thrill of playing highly competitive lacrosse. She got chills watching the U.S. men's team edge Canada in the 2010 FIL world championship, and decided her playing days were not quite done. There was also some flat-out begging from Team USA goalie Devon Wills, who liked having Oliver, an All-World defender, in front of her.

"Devon kept saying 'We miss you, please come back,'" Oliver said with a laugh. "I can't see my life without sports. I am coaching, but it's not quite the same. Wearing USA across your chest is pretty cool, too."

So Oliver got back in the game, and back in shape to compete against the nation's best. She said her veteran status does nothing to guarantee a spot on the 2011 team, but she hopes to get another chance to suit up for Team USA.

"For me, I'm not defending anything. I wasn't on the team last year," she said. "I worked hard to get back, and hopefully the coaches will see that."

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