June 21, 2013

Finding Her Voice: Team USA's Sarah Albrecht

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com

The following article originally appeared in the print edition of the March issue of Lacrosse Magazine, an exclusive benefit for the more than 400,000 members of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse now to help support the positive development of the sport, and receive Lacrosse Magazine delivered right to your mailbox.

First-year New Hampshire coach Sarah Albrecht hopes to lead the U.S. to a Gold Medal at this summer's FIL World Cup in Canada.

© Scott McCall

A strange thing happened as the U.S. prepared to play England in the 2009 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Women’s World Cup semifinals: Sarah Albrecht got nervous.

Calm, cool and collected — those are Albrecht’s typical traits. She doesn’t get pregame jitters, or mid-game jitters for that matter. She won two NCAA championships at Northwestern — the first two, in 2005 and 2006. The ones that happened way back when no one believed in the Wildcats.

And just days earlier, Albrecht had scored the game-winning goal for Team USA’s monster comeback against archrival Australia in the opening round of the tournament.

“I love playing with Sarah. She’s so athletic and makes such tremendous plays,” said U.S. team captain Lindsay Munday, who played with Albrecht at Northwestern.

But in the medal round, with a berth in the championship game on the line, Albrecht volunteered for an assignment that was not her usual thing. For the benefit of the team, though, she was willing to try.

So she stepped onto the field in Prague, microphone in hand, and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of hundreds of people, in a clear voice that hit all of the song’s famously difficult notes.

“It was definitely the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done,” Albrecht said.

When the U.S. played Ireland earlier that week, the speaker system at Synot Tip Arena conked out halfway through the Irish national anthem. So the Irish women joined hands and finished the song themselves.

The Americans followed Ireland’s lead, and began singing their own anthem. But they made a fatal mistake.

“As a team, we started a little too ambitious and too high on our notes,” Albrecht said.

As the song progressed and the register climbed, their voices cracked and waivered. They got through it, but barely. The game itself was much easier. Team USA defeated Ireland 20-3.

When the semifinal arrived, Albrecht, an amateur singer and guitarist, thought she could do something special to get her team pumped. So she volunteered to sing, and blew everyone away.

“It’s something I’d never done before, to put myself out there in that way,” Albrecht said. “I’d never sang in front of that many people. My parents were pretty surprised that I did it.”

On the field, Albrecht is both steady and surprising, an elegant, athletic midfielder who prowls the whole field then cuts to goal with precision. In February, she was one of 10 U.S. veterans from that 2009 team named to the 18-player roster for the 2013 outfit that will defend the gold medal in Ontario this summer. Albrecht also is a first-year head coach at New Hampshire.

As a player and a coach, she has found her voice.

“I try to bring my intensity to both aspects of my game, when I’m playing and when I’m coaching,” Albrecht said. “It’s important that your players know you have confidence in them.”

Albrecht saw her college coach Kelly Amonte Hiller compete in the 2005 World Cup in Annapolis, Md. That inspired her to do the same.

“She’s very smart, and very precise, and such a student of the game,” said Amonte Hiller, who saw enough leadership ability in Albrecht to make her an unprecedented five-time team captain from 2002-06. “I was not at all surprised that she wanted to go into the coaching profession.”

Along with Amonte Hiller’s mentorship, Albrecht’s experience with the U.S. team has aided in her development as a coach. The opportunity to interact with staff and teammates keeps fresh lacrosse ideas churning through her mind.

Albrecht’s speed and decision-making have made her an integral part of the U.S. team’s midfield ride, a full-court press that requires players to re-defend over and over, while remaining in constant communication with their teammates. It takes strength and smarts to execute. Albrecht has both qualities in spades.

That’s how she nailed the national anthem.

“You’ve just got start low, and then get high,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht does not mind starting small and working toward bigger things. After Oshawa, which she says will be her last international lacrosse tour, her well-plotted path will bring her back to New Hampshire. There, she will focus on molding the Wildcats into something great. Once perennial America East title contenders, they have gone just 13-22 over the last two seasons.

“As a coach, my biggest thing is the mental game,” Albrecht said. “That’s the most enjoyable part, to see the fight in the team and bring yourself to some place you never thought you could bring yourself.”

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