January 26, 2011

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New England-to-Team USA Pipeline Thrives in U19 Star Maddy Acton

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Maddy Acton's team-first approach to tryouts earn her a spot on the U.S. U19 training team, which will play Rollins and Jacksonville at Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event, in Florida on Saturday.

© Bryce Vickmark

Madison Acton had a unique strategy during tryouts for the U.S. Under-19 team this summer. Instead of trying to show up the other candidates and make them look bad, she strove make them look good.

"Instead of thinking of the girls around me as competitors, I took it as, 'If I make these girls look their best, I will be at my best because the point is to be a team. Instead of taking the one-on-one, I need to do the right play because that's what's going to win,'" she said.

It was certainly the right play. Acton's skill and generosity caught the eye of US Lacrosse selectors and her teammates alike. The midfielder from Sudbury, Mass., earned a spot on the U19 training team and is among 24 of the nation's top players vying for a spot on the final 18-player squad that will head to Hannover, Germany, this summer for the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) U19 World Championship. Acton and her teammates will get a final chance to impress coaches at this month's US Lacrosse Champion Challenge event in Orlando, where the U19 training team will draw against local college teams Jacksonville University and Rollins College.

Acton has already emerged as a team leader, serving as a captain during the US Lacrosse Stars and Stripes event in October in Boston.

"Maddy really stood out, even in that field of players," said Team USA head coach Krystin Porcella. "She has good presence on the field, good size, is fast and aggressive, has good knowledge of the game and great stick skills. She's got the whole package."

Acton went into tryouts with no expectations, just hopes. She remembers waiting for the results with Christine Ferguson, a defender and teammate from her home club, Revolution Lacrosse. They watched TV to try to take their minds off the selection process. "The Bachelorette" was admittedly a bad selection — a show about a group of girls who are systematically eliminated from an ever-diminishing field didn't do much to distract them from the impending cuts.

Of course, Team USA tryouts don't have a Rose Ceremony, just a numbered list that went up in the common area of the dorms at UMBC. Acton and Ferguson walked hand in hand to see if either of them had made it. They both did.

Acton, by virtue of coming first in alphabetical order, was No. 1 on the list.

"There was some screaming and jumping," Acton said. "A little bit of tears."

Acton and Ferguson are two of the three Revolution players on the U19 training team roster. (The third is goalie Kelsey Duryea.) There also are six Massachusetts natives on the U.S. women's senior team roster (Sarah Albrecht, Sarah Bullard, Mary Fitzgerald, Kristen Igoe, Kristen Kjellman and Jenn Russell). New England doesn't quite have the lacrosse hotbed reputation of Long Island or Baltimore, but perhaps it should. US Lacrosse's largest chapter, with over 32,000 members, is Eastern Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Bay Youth Lacrosse League is the goliath of youth lacrosse leagues, and elite clubs like Revolution are churning out top players at an increasing rate.

"For a small club, we play in the top brackets nationally. We're blessed having kids like Maddy," said Revolution coach Lukas Cash, whose program also produced Bullard, the captain of the U19 team that won gold in 2007.

"Maddy's an amazing leader and she always goes 110 percent," Cash said. "She can really play any position, given her intensity and speed. She's a track horse in the midfield."

In Germany, Porcella will need Acton to grind it out at midfield — get on ground balls, run back on defense, settle the offense, and win draws. She's up for the challenge. Acton plays with plenty of heart when she's fooling around at practice; when she's doing it for her country, it's a whole different level.

"Representing your country is unlike anything else," Acton said. "It's surreal and you almost don't believe it. It was a very, very cool experience getting my uniform and wearing it for the first time at Stars and Stripes. The most meaningful moment for me was when we brought it in and said, 'USA on three.' That's when it really hit me."

 

As she hopes for a trip to the FIL World Championship, Acton is smoothing out her stick work and perfecting her shot, and getting her paperwork together for her passport. (The tournament would be her first trip abroad, aside from a childhood vacation to Jamaica.) She's also still making her teammates look good — she can't stop talking about them.

"Taylor Trimble is a boss," Acton said. "Her field sense and her composure with the ball, I really respect. Jen Cook, oh my God, she's amazing. Shannon Gilroy, you just can't stop her. Sally Jentis is an amazing defender. Barb [Sullivan] is hilarious and a stiff defender.

"For me, being on this team with such amazing lacrosse players, to be able to develop and compete with these spectacular athletes is my greatest dream. Every time I play with them, I'm improving."

Acton said her team is unexpectedly cohesive for a group of girls who haven't spent that much time in each other's physical presence. Their get-together this month at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex will mark another opportunity for competitive development and bonding.

"None of us are taking it for granted," Acton said. "We are all so blessed to be there. It's not about attitude. We're not all superstars. We're not individuals. We're a team that wants to work together and improve."

Champion Challenge, a US Lacrosse event featuring the U.S. men's and women's national teams against top college programs, returns to ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Jan. 29-30, 2011. Click here for more information, including game and clinic schedules.


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