January 25, 2014

Wills Focused on the Present at Champion Challenge

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Team USA goalie Devon Wills made three first-half saves against Maryland on Saturday night at Champion Challenge, the annual US Lacrosse event in Florida. (Scott McCall)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Devon Wills is just trying to stay in the moment, just focus on competing this weekend with the U.S. women's national team.

Yes, she will be the first woman to try out for a Major League Lacrosse team when the New York Lizards open training camp in April. But for now — at Champion Challenge, the annual US Lacrosse event in Florida — she's been content to focus only on playing in goal for Team USA, just as she has for the last eight years, including two World Cup gold medals.

But Wills admitted she did sneak a peek at the U.S. men's national team practice happening simultaneously and on an adjacent field to the U.S. women's session Saturday morning.

"I did take a look," she said. "A men's practice is so foreign to me, except for the ones I've kind of seen, just figuring out what drills they do. I can take some things about them back to California."

Ah, yes, California. That's where Wills also is beginning her second season an assistant coach at USC, where her U.S. teammate and 2013 World Cup captain Lindsay Munday is head coach. Wills said she still has some scheduling to figure out for April, with USC in its season while the Lizards begin camp, but absolutely plans to be there.

There's been much attention, media and otherwise, on Wills since the Lizards signed her in December after she went unselected in the MLL's supplemental draft. New York made her the first female in the league in any capacity. If she makes the roster, she'll be the first in the outdoor pro league. It's been done in the National Lacrosse League, when Ginny Capicchioni played the season finale for the New Jersey Storm in 2003.

The Lizards' current starting goalie, Drew Adams, a two-time MLL goalie of the year, said he certainly expects a different feel at camp with Wills in the running for a roster spot along with former Stony Brook goalie Sean Brady and Mark Manos, who has seen playing time previously with the MLL's Charlotte Hounds.

Adams also said although he hasn't talked to Wills yet, he plans to reach out as camp approaches "to help her anyway that I can."

"I have a completely open mind about it," said Adams, one of four goalies in the running to make the final 23-player U.S. men's roster for this summer's Federation of International (FIL) Lacrosse World Championship in Denver.

"I'm going to treat her like I would treat any other teammate, especially any other goalie," he said. "At the start of training camp every year, that position is basically up for grabs and everyone fights for it. I'll welcome her on the team. Once we step on the field, I'll be supportive but I'll be competing against her at the same time and trying to keep a job."

Wills looks forward to meeting Adams as well.

"I’m hoping to learn from him as much as I am to compete with him," Wills said. "It’s just a whole other side of the game that’s only going to make me better.”

That's been part of the reasoning for Wills to take a shot at the MLL, to challenge herself against an entirely new level of competition. On Saturday night, Wills started and played the first half of game one of the U.S. women's team's doubleheader with returning NCAA runner-up Maryland. She made three saves, allowing five goals, and showed off her trademark out-of-cage aggressiveness, often stepping out of the crease to attempt to pick off a pass and force a turnover. The U.S. went onto win the game, 16-10, powered by five goals and two assists from Syracuse sophomore Kayla Treanor and three goals by current Terp Taylor Cummings, who played against her college team.

"I'm not going to be perfect," Wills said earlier in the day. "I'm not going to make every single save. There are going to be some goals that go in. That has no effect on the MLL stuff."

"There is outside pressure and expectations and everything," she said. "I'm trying to just focus on controlling what I can control, and also just realizing that other people's expectations are going to be there and that shouldn't affect my X's and O's of what I do in the cage."

U.S. women sweep Maryland

After beating the Terps in game one of the Saturday split-squad doubleheader, the U.S. defeated Maryland 19-4 in game two. There was a distinct youthful theme, in addition to the sophomores Cummings and Treanor pacing the scoring in game one.

Katrina Dowd led all scorers in game two with five goals and one assist and Katie Rowan three goals and two assists, but Georgetown junior attacker Caroline Tarzian notched four goals and Johns Hopkins senior Taylor D'Amore had three goals and one assists for Team USA.

"They did a great job," Team USA coach Ricky Fried said of the current college players on Team USA. "Cummings and Treanor are phenomenal specimens, athletically. They're just breaking the surface of what they're doing with us because they're not even up to speed with those things yet. It's scary in a good way to see what they can accomplish. There's some current players on the team that the first couple years in the program took a little while to get going but once the light bulb went off, the could use their athletics and not worry as much. The future looks very bright right now."

Maryland led the U.S. early on in game one, holding a 5-4 lead at halftime before Team USA outscored the Terps 12-5 in the second half.

"The turnaround point came from a couple turnovers on the ride, easy opportunities," Fried said. "Teams start to question themselves physically, and they get tired mentally they even get more tired. Maryland is really athletic, but we can keep putting waves a people, that shows again, even though they played a great game in the first half."

Odds and Ends

Team USA midfielder Kelly Berger, when introduced during pregame warmups and during Saturday night's game, was for the first time in competition announced as Kelly Rabil. She and men's star Paul Rabil were married Jan. 4. Players on the sideline still yelled "Yeah, Berger," after good plays while others said "Rabil."

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