Megan Douty and Haley Warden have played a lot of lacrosse over the past two weeks, but they jumped at the chance for more.
They are two of the 12 players from the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League that will travel to Aldershot, England, this weekend to play three exhibition games against England’s national team that is tuning up for the European Championships.
“It’s just another great opportunity to continue to play and also go overseas,” Douty said. “England has a great program. We’re all just trying to get better. Bringing girls over there and continuing to compete, that way we’ll get better and so will England’s team, and that’ll bring more competition to the international level.”
Douty was part of a WPLL group that traveled to Japan in the fall. The 2015 Maryland graduate and Team USA defender also played in England in the 2017 World Cup. She is the lone player from the gold-medal team that is going back this weekend. The exhibition games will be Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, all in the rugby stadium at Aldershot Garrison Sports Centre.
“I love it,” Douty said. “I saw that opportunity and said, ‘Sign me up.’ Obviously, I had an opportunity to play in the World Cup. I had a great experience, and I have some relationships with some of England’s players. I played with a couple at the University of Maryland. Hopefully we’ll be able to compete against them.”
Warden sees the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. She has the chance to go to England and to play lacrosse at a high level, something that’s been hard for her to find on a regular basis since graduating in 2018 after helping James Madison win its first national championship.
“I’m just playing in any game that I can,” said Warden, a midfielder. “This is an awesome opportunity. It’s a great experience for me personally, because I don’t get to see [this level of competition] that often. Getting to play great people across the pond is going to be awesome.”
The WPLL cohort will consist of attackers Shelby Fredricks, Kara Mupo and Alyssa Leonard; midfielders Mollie Stevens, Lauren Lea, Warden and Amanda Johansen; and defenders Douty, Courtney Waite, Lauren Murray and Caroline Fitzgerald, along with goalie Allie DaCar.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Alex Frank, the associate head coach at Colorado. “There are a lot of different combinations. There are some that play on the same professional team or played together in college, which is fun because you’ve already seen what they can do on the field together.”
Frank, also an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s national team, will coach the team while ahletic trainer Cristina Nistler of Northwestern and the U.S. women’s U19 team will also accompany the team on the trip.
Mupo, Leonard, Douty, Johansen and Fitzgerald all were 2018 WPLL All-Stars. Douty and Warden are the only two members traveling who participated in the U.S. national team’s training camp June 11-13. Then they played each other in the WPLL when Warden’s Pride defeated Douty’s Command 18-5 on June 15. The Pride had a bye last weekend, while the Command lost to the Fight 16-9 at Homewood Field on Sunday.
“Everybody is so easy to play with right now,” Warden said. “Everyone wants to set each other up for success. Even though we’re competing on different teams in the WPLL, when we all come together, I think all that’s dropped and we all just want everyone to do amazing, so we have that on our side.”
Warden is in her first year in the U.S. team player pool. The coaching staff, led by North Carolina’s Jenny Levy, has put a strong emphasis on teamwork and working well with others. Warden is gaining valuable experience with every opportunity.
“Going through the U.S. training camp is huge, because [with] the different styles of play, you see so many different things that you can incorporate into your game,” Warden said. “Being able to play with even more people who have so much talent is going to be so much fun this weekend. I’m pumped.”
Warden’s post-collegiate experience has been restricted to mostly WPLL games. The exhibitions will give her a better taste of the international scene.
“I’ve never played anywhere outside the U.S. before so I thought it’d be an awesome opportunity to just get out there and see the different styles of play that are developing in other countries,” she said. “And you get to go to England, which is really awesome too. How much more can you ask than to go play someone new in another country?”
Douty is only four years out of school, but that makes her one of the more veteran players on the team traveling to England this weekend. She has more international experience than anyone, yet she is still giddy about just having the chance to compete and stay on top of her game.
“It lines up great,” Douty said. “It was an off week. We had the U.S. weekend, and the WPLL is in there. All these games and competition, they have helped me a ton with regimenting for this England trip and these exhibition games. I’ve constantly been doing high-intensity training, consistently running, definitely practicing my own defensive skill work and stickwork to stay sharp. This makes it that much easier. Thank goodness for US Lacrosse and those three days as well as the women’s professional league to keep my stick sharp and essentially in action.”
The WPLL season resumes July 6 in West Chester, Pa. With just a dozen players visiting England, there will be plenty of playing time and chances to shine.
“We’re kind of in this whole evaluation process going into the 2021 World Cup,” said Frank. “It’s another opportunity to evaluate some players, watch them compete against some international competition and have some fun. It’s always a great opportunity to be able to play other countries and to see how we do, especially with the international game being a little different than what we play normally. What’s great about the professional game is it’s very similar to international play, just with a couple rule changes, so these players won’t have to adjust too much. It’ll give them an opportunity to showcase their talent in a great area.”
Douty played with Murray in Japan. She’s also teammates on the Command with Mupo, but they’re at opposite ends of the field. Warden plays on the Pride with Stevens, Fredericks and Murray.
“Win or lose, it’s another opportunity to get better,” Douty said. “Not all of us obviously have been playing together consistently. It’s going to be a quick building of camaraderie, but luckily with 12 players, it’s a little less to figure out. It should be good. A lot of us are familiar with our styles of play because of the pro league. That’s super beneficial.”
The WPLL has helped Warden adjust to the higher level of play after college. She has seen it ramp up even more in the U.S. team training sessions. Both experiences, she said, already have helped her grow as a player.
“Every single person is good, so you have to find different ways to get your opportunity,” Warden said. “Normally, you can find gaps in a team, and you try to expose those. But when you’re playing with so many great players, you can’t necessarily find those gaps, because everyone is so solid. So just trying to get a little bit more creative to create opportunities and being able to work well as a team is the biggest part. That’s the biggest difference I have noticed with playing with this high level of players.”
Warden is looking for every possible chance to play and grow. She is juggling her private training with working professionally in the corporate world as a consultant. She is looking forward to a long weekend of lacrosse at the international level.
“It’s definitely a big highlight of my summer,” Warden said. “I love to travel, so any time I can get out of the country it’s a huge plus. And to get to go out of the country and play lacrosse, it’s like a double whammy.”
Frank says the U.S. is always looking for opportunities to play, especially with international rules, but she doesn’t expect to do much traveling this far out from the 2021 World Cup, hosted by US Lacrosse at Towson. The rare chance to go abroad and take on England had plenty of appeal.
“The opportunity to compete is the best feeling ever,” Douty said. “Being out of school, you don’t have that everyday practice feeling and two or three games during the week, so it’s a challenge. It’s hard to manipulate and duplicate that live game field, especially if you’re training by yourself.
“I’m not coaching at a college. I have my own training program and club team, so I’m kind of still around it, but not to that level that I’m used to or need to be. Having this extra opportunity, I’m all in. I need to continue to stay sharp, and I want that competition. England is definitely one of those top teams in international play, so it’s a great opportunity for all of us to get out there.”
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