International Players Aspire for Shot in America
|At least 30 NCAA coaches and
assistants are at Stanford this weekend for US Lacrosse's Stars
& Stripes event, and they're sure to notice international
talent. "I think as a coach, you always have your scouting glasses
on," said Team USA midfielder and USC women's coach Lindsey
© Gani Pinero
PALO ALTO, Calif. — NCAA student-athletes live some of the laxiest lives on the planet. They practice, play and train year round. The equipment that they play with and the gear that they wear are provided free by their schools. They are coached by full-time professionals, and they benefit from access to a cadre of support staff like trainers, strength coaches, and tutors.
Such lacrosse-centric living is literally unimaginable in other countries, where the sport is played mainly at the club level and supported mainly by the players themselves. So it's no wonder that some international players aspire to play in the American varsity system.
"The English university system is good and getting better, but it's just not to the NCAA standards," said Olivia Higson, an attacker on the English national team.
Higson, a high school senior who plays with the Stockport Lacrosse Club, is making her FIL debut at the 2012 US Lacrosse Stars & Stripes event. She hopes to follow in the footsteps of teammates Laura Merrifield (Maryland) and Charlie Finnigan (Virginia), and she knows that international tournaments like this weekend's events can play a key role in foreign players' careers.
"Trying to get seen as an international player is obviously more difficult. Obviously the coaches have more opportunities to see American players," Higson said.
There will be at least 30 NCAA coaches and assistants at Stanford this weekend, between the coaching staffs and players of the various participating FIL and NCAA teams.
"I think as a coach, you always have your scouting glasses on. USC is the most internationally diverse school in the country, so we're certainly looking. There's amazing talent in the U.S., but we're always looking for a player that will buy into our values," said Lindsey Munday, a midfielder for Team USA and coach at Southern California.
Higson has taken the SAT and reached out to schools including Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Princeton, Towson and Colgate. She hopes to enroll in an NCAA institution next fall, but if she doesn't, she plans to take a gap year and try again.
"It's just another level," she said.
Australia traditionally has the strongest international presence in the NCAA system, including Tewaaraton winners Jen Adams (Maryland) and Hannah Nielsen (Northwestern).
Three current NCAA players are on Team Australia's roster -- Big East Midfielder of the Year Marlee Paton (Loyola), goalie Kahli Evans (Queens) and midfielder Isabelle Pickett (San Diego State). Pickett spent a year at the University of South Australia before transferring to SDSU as a sophomore. She had 10 goals and three assists during the Aztecs' inaugural season in 2012. San Diego State coach Kylee White, also a player for Team Canada, was an assistant under Adams, the current coach at Loyola. Through that connection, Pickett found a place in the NCAA system.
"My parents have known since I was younger, ever since I started playing lacrosse and seeing people like Hannah and Courtney Hobbes and Sarah Forbes all go to college in America, I've always wanted to do it," said Pickett. "A lot of girls are pretty keen to come to come over. Lacrosse is life, basically, and they want it to be more of their lives."
Picket is one of eight players on Team Australia who played for
their country in the 2011 FIL U19 Women's World Cup. Two others,
sisters Darcy and Stella Justice-Allen, are exploring the
possibilities of NCAA play. The Australian U19 team did a training
camp at Loyola and they were impressed by the school's facilities
and the idea of playing in the NCAA.
"I think there's some scouts coming out having a look-see. And look, the more kids we get into the NCAA, it's great for our country," Australian coach Max Madonia said.
Despite its proximity to the U.S., Canadian women have been much slower to find their way into the NCAA system than their male counterparts, although they have been making inroads in recent years. Twenty-one of the 24 players on the roster played or are currently playing for NCAA teams. One of the three exceptions is midfielder Nicole Martindale, who has made a verbal commitment to the University of Denver. Martindale plays for the Oshawa Lady Blue Knights, a prominent Ontario club that has become a Canadian pipeline to the NCAA.
"There's no pro in lacrosse, so the NCAA is the really big thing. In Canada, if you make it to the NCAA, it's huge," Martindale said.
It's extremely rare for Japanese players to make the leap to NCAA play. Besides the distance and the language barrier, there are also skill level and lifestyle considerations. Many Japanese players begin playing only when they reach university, so they are rarely ready for the level of competition found in NCAA play and are disinclined to have second college careers just for the chance to play high-level lacrosse.
Sachiyo Yamada had a different idea. The defender played at Kyoto University, graduating in 2005. She competed for the Japanese national team in FIL competition, where she was captivated by the Australian style of lacrosse. The Aussies' fast transition game was so radically different than the pass-heavy style that most Japanese teams favor that Yamada was inspired to rearrange her life in order to learn it.
Since 2008, she has split her time between Tokyo and Adelaide, working for six months in Japan to be able to spend six months in Australia concentrating on lacrosse. She was recently granted a waiver by the FIL to play with Team Australia. (The FIL makes exceptions for foreign nationals to play for other national teams, most often if they are living abroad or are married to a citizen of another country.)
"I wanted to try the highest level," Yamada said. "I want to be a world champion with Australian lacrosse, because I love Australian lacrosse."
AUSTRALIA 15 STANFORD 14
Marlee Paton led all scorers with 6 goals and one assist in Australia's narrow victory over the host Cardinal. Paton scored the game winner on a low, unassisted shot with just 29 seconds remaining in the game. Team Australia led 10-5 at the half and dominated the draw, 24-7, but Stanford goalie Lyndsey Munoz had a big second half, making eight saves and keying a 5-0 run to bring Stanford back into the game.
ENGLAND 10 CANADA 8
Canada dominated the draw, but poor shooting and stingy defense by Team England led to an upset win for the English over the reigning FIL bronze medalists. Midfielders Rachel Kirchheimer and Laura Merrifield each scored 2 goals in the win.
AUSTRALIA 14 ENGLAND 3
Sarah Mollison had an outstanding performance, scoring three goals and dishing out four assists in the dominant win over the English. The game was a lopsided affair, unlike yesterday's narrow 10-9 victory. The English team had the disadvantage of playing back-to-back games, but the Australians also stepped up their defense.
CANADA 21 RIKKIO 2
Team Canada dominated the match, reeling off 15 straight goals at one point. Nicole Martindale, Kaylin Morrisette and Jessica Markew each had a hat trick in the win. Rikkio's goals were scored by attacker Azumi Enomoto and midfielder Yumi Kimura.
Check back to LaxMagazine.com for more coverage from US Lacrosse's Stars & Stripes.