July 28, 2012

Team USA Tryouts: Veterans Reflect on Walker's Retirement

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Day Two of tryouts for the 2012-13 U.S. women's national team were held Saturday in hot Baltimore on the campus of UMBC.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

BALTIMORE — The longest, most grueling and possibly most important day of tryouts for the 2012-13 U.S. women’s national team tryout came and went Saturday. And while Day Two was as much about the players present, conversation centered on a notable absence: Acacia Walker, who on Thursday announced her retirement.
Walker, named Boston College’s head coach in late May, had been a long-standing U.S. national team program participant since 1999, as a member of the gold-medal winning Under-19 team. Her athleticism and positive encouragement emanated anytime she took the field for Team USA.
“We will all miss her out here, and to the veterans who have been playing with her for a while, her presence is known,” said All-World attacker Lindsey Munday, who was elected team captain earlier in July at the North American Challenge Cup. “It’s a decision she did not take lightly. We’re all out here playing for her and wishing she was still here. Above anything, she was so positive and happy to be on the lacrosse field, inspiring other people and playing for her teammates. It was infectious to everybody else.”
Said defender Regina Oliver, recently named head coach at Cincinnati: “I was really emotional and bummed about Acacia not trying out this year… She’s been a leader on this team for so many years. We’ve been through a lot of things together. I gave her a call [Friday] night to give me a pep talk, and keep me going. Her biggest thing was her positivity. Her game was always at the top. Her leadership and being a veteran, and keeping the young ones coming back and being there when you need someone to say, ‘You’re good. I’m with you.’”
But in Walker’s absence, veteran leadership became a recurrent theme.
Munday, the former Northwestern All-American and head coach at USC, chanted encouragement from the sidelines yelling, “Here we go U.S.” Later Munday — sitting out the tryouts while recovering from a broken left wrist — stood in the middle of the attack huddle and helped organize the unit during 5-on-4 drills.
“I try to be involved as much as possible,” Munday said. “It’s a really nerve-racking weekend for everybody, for veterans and for players who are trying out for the first time. I remember when it was my first tryout, so I just try to be positive and get people to open up as much as possible.
Attacker Kelly Berger and defender Holly McGarvie were especially vocal during drills. Oliver broke down the team into a slow clap at the start of the second session, then gathered the group together for a “USA” cheer.
“Everybody is really stepping up. The younger kids have been outspoken, and the veterans like Amber [Falcone], [Kelly] Berger and Sarah [Albrecht], and I could keep going on and on,” Jill Byers said. “Even Munday. She’s hurt. She’s on the sidelines. But she’s so supportive. I can her hear voice out on the field.”

Young Guns vs. Old School

Oliver smiled when asked if she looked around and noticed her veteran status. “It’s nice, because they’re running circles around me,” Oliver said, chuckling. “It’s great.”
Along with Megan Huether, Oliver is one of only two 2005 college graduates trying out. The rest graduated in 2006 or later.
“I’m kind of seasoned, knowing what we have to do and what they’re looking for. We’ve been really good about helping kids who are here for the first or second time, keeping them together,” Oliver said. “To be on my way out and see the new players with the fire in their eyes coming into tryouts having the same dream of wearing that Team USA garb is awesome.”
A few young up-and-comers stood out Saturday. Johns Hopkins midfielder Taylor D’Amore picked up several nice ground balls. Tewaaraton finalist Brittany Dashiell, a midfielder for Florida, initiated aggressively from up top.
Former U.S. Under-19 national team members Tatum Coffey, a midfielder for Penn State, and Kelly McPartland, a midfielder for Maryland, worked well within the offense.
“I’m so excited to be here, playing with my idols and people who I look up to,” Coffey said. “I’m so glad to be here with my U19ers. That was such a great experience, and we’re excited to get the chance to do it again.”
Meanwhile, fellow U-19 team leading scorer Cortney Fortunato is the youngest player at the tryouts. A rising senior at Northport (N.Y.) High, Fortunato finished a flashy behind-the-back shot in small-sided drills Saturday that attracted the attention of players observing on the sidelines. Several asked, “Who was that?”
“Cortney has been playing awesome,” Oliver said. “A lot of things are new for her, but she fits right in here.”

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