Young Guns Help Fuel Team USA Success

PETERBOROUGH, Ontario — Much has been made about the experience of this year’s U.S. women’s U19 team. For the first time, the U.S. has allowed players with previous college experience to be a part of the U19 team.

There’s no question the move has paid big dividends all over the field as the U.S. has rolled through to the semifinals, outscoring its opponents 94-11 in five victories.

Northwestern All-American Izzy Scane has been a dominant force on offense. Duke’s Maddie Jenner has ruled the draw and the defense, anchored by Vanderbilt’s Bri Gross, Massachusetts’ Ally Murphy and North Carolina’s Brooklyn Neumen has played lockdown in front of collegiate goaltenders Madison Doucette (Northwestern) and Rachel Hall, who led the nation in saves at Oregon before transferring to Boston College. The goaltending tandem has identical 75.0 save percentages to tie for the lead of all goalies in the tournament.

But don’t forget about the young guns. Plenty of players with no college experience have been major contributors to the team, including three players who still have their senior year of high school ahead of them.

Entering tonight’s semifinal game against Australia (5 p.m. with streaming on Lax Sports Network and the Olympic Channel), rising high school seniors Leah Holmes (Hackley School – N.Y.), Belle Smith (Westhampton Beach – N.Y.) and Caitlyn Wurzburger (American Heritage – Fla.) are among the top four scorers on the team.

Wurzburger is the team’s leading scorer with 31 points and her 15 assists leads the more than 400 players competing in the tournament.

Holmes is second with 20 points (12g, 8a), highlighted by a nine-point performance in a 25-0 opening round playoff win over Hong Kong that was the highest single-game total for a U.S. U19 player since 2007.

Smith’s 14 goals is the second-highest total on the team, trailing only Wurzburger’s 16 goals.

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The oldest player on the team, Murphy, will be a senior in college when this trio starts their freshman seasons, but they’ve felt right at home.

“Something our team lives by is that age isn’t a factor,” Smith said. “We all treat each other like equals, but being younger is definitely cool. A bunch of girls on this team are girls I’ve watched in college. Every time I watch them, they inspire me.”

Holmes had little idea of what she was getting into when she initially applied to try out for the team.

“When I found out I was asked to try out I didn’t even understand what a huge honor that was,” Holmes said. “Everyone was kind of freaking out and I was like what’s going on. Then it kind of hit me, the magnitude of it.”

Roughly 500 players had applied to be a part of the tryout process. Only about 100 of them got the opportunity to attend the tryouts at US Lacrosse headquarters last August. The odds of making the final 18 weren’t high. Holmes entered the tryout with low expectations.

“There’s no way I’m making the team, that was kind of my thought,” Holmes said. “So, I was just kind of thinking I have nothing to lose. I wasn’t even committed at that point. I was like nobody even knows who I am, so whatever I do doesn’t matter. I just took a leap of faith and put everything I had into it and it just turned out very positively.”

"It definitely messed with the mind a little bit, but every day I just kept telling myself age isn’t a factor. Just do your thing." — Belle Smith
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Smith had a little better idea of the potential opportunity. She had seen others from Long Island play on previous U19 teams and knew that her age was a fit, even if she’d be a little on the younger side. Then when she heard college players were going to be allowed to try out, she’d really be a young one.

“It definitely messed with the mind a little bit, but every day I just kept telling myself age isn’t a factor,” Smith said. “Just do your thing.”

Smith, who said she had tears flowing when she got the call from head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller telling her she made the final 18, has been doing her thing all tournament. She’s taken a beating inside, scoring goals while getting knocked to the ground, but she keeps getting right back up for more.

They keep plugging away because they know how special the opportunity is.

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Wurzburger, headed to North Carolina in 2020, is the No. 1 recruit in her class. She’s played four years of varsity high school lacrosse, topping 100 goals and 100 assists each season to give her the all-time national scoring record with a season still to go. She’s starred on the summer circuit as well, but has never had an experience like this in the sport.

“It’s completely different,” Wurzburger said. “I get goosebumps even thinking about being on that field. I love singing the national anthem. I sing it loud and proud. Wearing the jersey, seeing your family and friends and being with a special group of girls that you don’t even feel like you’re the best of the best. You’re just a group of girls playing the game of lacrosse for your country.”

“I don’t even have words, it’s been mind-blowing,” said Holmes, who has committed to Northwestern since the initial tryouts. “Just meeting so many people from other countries has been the highlight. The opening ceremonies when we were taking pictures with Jamaica and Kenya, that was pretty special.”

Smith will cherish the lifelong friends she’s made on this team, but she’s not quite ready to start her career at Boston College.

“I’m so excited for college, but I’m still so excited for my senior year of high school,” Smith said. “I don’t want to wish away that time. Even though I’m living this journey and I feel a little older right now, I’m still a high school kid and I’m still excited to do my high school things.”

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Three rising high school seniors are among Team USA's top scorers.
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Caitlyn Wurzburger is Team USA's leading scorer through five games with 31 points in the World Lacrosse Women's U19 World Championship.
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Leah Holmes had nine points in Team USA's playoff win over Hong Kong and ranks second on the team with 20 points.

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