England Under-19 women’s lacrosse team visits Port City

England Under-19 women’s lacrosse team visits Port City

By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

In just three months, the England Under-19s girls national lacrosse team face their toughest challenge as they head north to Scotland for the Under-19s Women’s World Lacrosse Championship.

As part of their three-year plan to prepare for the World Cup, a squad of 25 players went on a 10-day tour of the United States to face top-quality opposition and make their case to be included on the roster ahead of the final squad being announced.

After losses to Georgetown Visitation, Notre Dame Prep and St. Anthony’s as well as a win over Holy Child, England arrived at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes for an exhibition game against the highly rated Alexandrian team before participating in their Spring Fling tournament the following day with games against Collegiate of Richmond and Holy Cross from Kensington, Md.

Saints were dominant as they beat the English 17-5, but the team from across the pond rallied the following day to take two straight victories at the tournament: 11-9 over Collegiate and 11-8 against Holy Cross.

Their Spring Fling games were enormously challenging for England, trailing at points in both contests before they pulled through for the victories. It capped a rewarding experience for the national team, who head into the World Cup with great optimism after some tough tests.

“We’ve gone from strength to strength, and we’ve achieved more here than I ever thought we would achieve,” England head coach Nicky Budd said. “I think what’s invaluable is the game experiences that we’ve had. Being a couple of goals up and having to see the game out for four minutes, things like that. Being one goal down and losing by one goal and realizing we should have turned it around.

“We focused a lot on our standards of performance, on what we need to turn games around. It’s invaluable, and out here being able to play these long games with a stop-clock, it’s really good because our girls don’t get much exposure to that.”

For the players, coming up against high quality opposition is something they do not experience very often. Outside of the World Cup, the major competition is the Home Internationals tournament against Scotland and Wales, which England won in late March before heading stateside. To face the likes of SSSAS and Collegiate amongst others was a test they believe will stand them in good stead.

“I think the tour has been such an important experience for us, especially with our build-up to the World Cup,” vice-captain Zoe Thursz said. “Coming out here and playing opposition like this and growing as a team and knowing that we can go from maybe a poor performance at the beginning but pick it up towards the end has been so crucial our build-up.”

“Just challenging ourselves against stronger opposition has been really good,” captain Emma Adams agreed. “The preparation and mentally simulating a World Cup with the number of matches we’ve played has been good for us to know we can finish strong at the end.”

Having faced such a sustained level of high competition throughout, the players also spoke of their pride at being able to rise to the occasion, even as fatigue began to set in.

“Mentally, the games are very close, there’s one or two goals in it along the whole way of the games,” captain Olivia Wimpenny said. “For us to come up with two wins today is very positive for us mentally as well as physically.”

“[The other teams’] stick-work and their level of play is phenomenal,” said vice-captain Taya Jackson. “But we feel like we’ve stepped up to their level. You’ve got some great players who can take a ball and run it down the whole pitch, but we’ve really stepped up and I think we’ve matched their level.”

After returning home, Budd formally announced her 20-player squad that will face Wales, Canada, Australia and the U.S. in pool play before the start of the knockout stage. Their campaign starts on July 23 against the Welsh in a tournament that brings together 15 teams from around the world, including a team from the Native American Iroquois tribes, and Budd feels her team have taken plenty from their experience in the United States.

“Initially, we didn’t do too well; the score lines were a couple of goals out of a win, but I think they realise that actually if we dig deep with the longer games and keep mentally strong, they can come out with a win,” she said. “That’s what’s really important, because ultimately at the World Cup we’re not going to be winning easily, we’re going to have to win by small margins, and I think this exposure to that type of experience here will be amazing for us in the World Cup.

“Mentally, they are really strong and their fitness has held up really well because it’s been a tall order. The fact that they’ve experienced a loss by one goal and won by one goal, they think they can do it.”