The bottom floor of Peter Gzowski College features an open-air design. Tons of natural sunlight pours in through floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Exposed concrete beams add to the minimalist feel.

It sits beneath the dorm rooms that house many World Lacrosse Women’s U19 World Championship participants and also features a row of classrooms where coaches break down film and go over scouting reports with their teams.

"> Vision Quest: How the U.S. U19 Conquered the World | US Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTO BY TIM BATES

Caitlyn Wurzburger (right) led the U.S. with 21 goals in their run to gold.

Vision Quest: How the U.S. U19 Conquered the World


The bottom floor of Peter Gzowski College features an open-air design. Tons of natural sunlight pours in through floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Exposed concrete beams add to the minimalist feel.

It sits beneath the dorm rooms that house many World Lacrosse Women’s U19 World Championship participants and also features a row of classrooms where coaches break down film and go over scouting reports with their teams.

The building, on the campus of Peterborough, Ontario’s Trent University, is named Enwayaang, which translates from one of North America’s oldest Native American languages to “the way we speak together.”

Kelly Amonte Hiller plays part coach and part Zen master. She gathers the U.S. U19 team in one of these classrooms before each of its seven world championship games. No fiery speeches. She simply reemphasizes that she wants her teams to be the aggressors, to have fun while doing it and to embrace each moment. 

Now, she says, “Let’s meditate.”

For the next few minutes, the only audible sound besides Amonte Hiller’s voice is the quiet hum of air conditioners. Amonte Hiller tells the players to take three deep breaths, to picture themselves walking together over the bridge that crosses the Otonabee River on the way to the game field, to visualize being on the field and executing a play with their teammates.


For the opponents the United States faced in this world championship, it must have felt like a freight train coming at them. It was, quite simply, one of the most dominant teams in the history of World Lacrosse.


And then she asks them to come back to the room. The next sound is vastly different. It sounds like a freight train as the players stand up, push in the wooden chairs across the concrete floor in unison and begin the march to the field with Megan Carney proudly carrying the United States flag attached to her stick.

For the opponents the United States faced in this world championship, it must have felt like a freight train coming at them.

In seven games, the U.S. outscored its opponents 128-20. In five of the seven games, the U.S. scored in the opening 64 seconds. Not once did it trail during the entire tournament.

It was, quite simply, one of the most dominant teams in the history of World Lacrosse.








CHASING A DREAM

In the fall of 2012, the U.S. senior team made a rare trip west as it prepared for the 2013 World Cup. Australia, Canada, England and Japan participated in the event, along with college teams from Cal and Stanford.

In the crowd that weekend was a young lacrosse player from El Dorado Hills, Calif., named Brianne Gross. She entered a raffle and won an autographed jersey from the 2011 U.S. U19 women’s team, which had captured the world championship the previous summer in Germany.

“I put it in a shadow box, and I’ve had it hung in my room on my wall ever since,” Gross said. “Every day, I would look at it and think it would be so cool to be like that — to have my jersey hung on some little kid’s wall. At first it was just some far-fetched dream, but then as I started getting older, it started to become an actual feasible goal.”

Gross starred at Oak Ridge High School in California and honed her game under the direction of Theresa Sherry while playing for Tenacity Lacrosse. Sherry had helped the U.S. U19 team win its first gold medal in 1999, but it didn’t appear that Gross would get a chance to follow in her footsteps. US Lacrosse guidelines at the time did not allow players with college experience to participate in the U19 world championship. Then US Lacrosse decided to let all age-eligible players try out for the 2019 team, just as it had always done on the men’s side.

Sherry excitedly called Gross.

“Bri, the rules changed,” she said over the phone. “You can try out now.’”

Gross was among more than 100 of the nation’s top players invited to US Lacrosse last August for a three-day tryout, after which they sat in the Tierney Field stands awaiting their fate. “There were butterflies in my stomach,” Gross said. “When I heard my number called, it was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”

The roster would wane, from 36 to 24 after Spring Premiere in January and then ultimately 18 after a June training weekend at US Lacrosse.

Sophia DiCenso, a senior at Foxboro (Mass.) High School, saw she had missed a call from Amonte Hiller during practice. She raced home to call her back. She made it. “I literally don’t even remember the rest of the phone call. I was freaking out. I hung up and I screamed downstairs to my parents, and I almost fell down the stairs. They were screaming in my house. It was so fun.”

TIME OF THEIR LIVES

The fun was just beginning for the 18 players that made the trip to Canada for the world championship. From the time they arrived on the campus of Trent University, everything was bigger and better than they imagined.

The U.S. players bonded instantly with their hallmates from Wales. They took selfies and sang songs together. Opening ceremonies exposed them to more teams, people from around the world that shared the same love of lacrosse they did.

It was even more special when they stood on the field and sang the national anthem.

Caitlyn Wurzburger still has a year of high school lacrosse to go, but she’s fast becoming one of the biggest names in the sport. The Delray Beach, Fla., native graced the March cover of US Lacrosse Magazine, already holds the national high school scoring record, is the No. 1 rated player in her high school class by Inside Lacrosse and is headed to North Carolina.

None of that compared to playing for Team USA.

“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, 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.”




California native Brianne Gross got the chance to play for Team USA when US Lacrosse allowed all age-eligible players tp compete, regardless of college experience.


REMEMBERING THE PAST

While having a blast, it was impossible to ignore the past.

In 2015, the U.S. team cruised through the world championship, only to suffer a stunning loss to Canada in the gold medal game, ending a string of four straight U.S. world championships at the U19 level.

That 2015 team was loaded with talent — Andie Aldave, Samantha Giacolone, Kerrigan Miller, Lindsey Ronbeck and Francesca Whitehurst all were first- or second-team All-Americans this year — and had a head coach, Kim Simons, with NCAA championship game experience.

PHOTO BY ALAN RENNIE

Heading into the 2015 championship game, the U.S. had outscored its seven opponents 128-24, with its closest game being a six-goal victory over Canada in pool play. In the end, it was all for naught. Canada pulled the upset.

Before this year’s tournament, Canada head coach Scott Teeter knew the U.S. team was loaded, but that wasn’t anything unusual.

“They’ve got some fantastic players, which they had before,” Teeter said. “The fantastic players now are a little more experienced and a little bit older.”

Twelve of the final 18 players came to Peterborough with college experience, but the result in 2015 was a constant reminder that what they had done in the early stages of this year’s tournament didn’t matter. Would the experience of a lifetime be spoiled by a loss at the end?

“The memories will be brighter and stronger if we win tomorrow,” Amonte Hiller told the team the day before the championship game. “So let’s get it done.”

Amonte Hiller spoke from experience.

In 1997 and 2001, she helped lead the U.S. to gold medals at the World Cup, first in Japan and then in England. In 2005, the American squad had the thrill of playing on home soil, but Jen Adams led Australia to a dominating win in the gold medal game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.

Amonte Hiller’s final time wearing a USA uniform ended with a silver medal hanging around her neck. It was one of the motivators for her to apply for the head coaching job for this U19 team. She wanted a taste of gold again.

Throughout the tournament, Amonte would stop and tell the team to savor these moments. She smiled as the girls danced around a bonfire with players from Jamaica and Mexico while making S’mores — at least until the dancing got a little too intense for her liking and she turned to her coaches to have them make the team dial it back a notch.

Winning gold was the ultimate goal. She didn’t want anything to jeopardize that.

BRINGING IT HOME

The U.S. jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the gold medal game, but Canada scored twice in the opening two minutes of the second quarter to make in 3-2.

Would the U.S. get tight?

Izzy Scane never gave her teammates a chance. Scane, a second- team All-American after a breakout freshman year at Northwestern, scored in transition and then buried a free-position shot to give the U.S. a 5-2 lead. 

The scoring streak reached nine before Canada finally scored again late in the fourth quarter. The U.S. defense, anchored by Gross, co-captain Ally Murphy, Brooklyn Neumen and goalies Rachel Hall and Madison Doucette, blanked the Canadians for a span of 38 minutes.

Scane finished the championship game with three goals and tied Wurzburger for the team lead with 21 goals in the tournament.

A year ago, that didn’t seem possible. When Scane sat in the Tierney Field stands last August, you see, Amonte Hiller did not call her number.

“I talked to my high school coach, who is still really huge in my life,” Scane said. “He said, ‘You can either give up and say that’s it, or you can put your head down, work hard and see if something can make a difference in the fall.’ That’s what ended up happening.”

Scane and Carney both got a second chance with the U.S. team after impressive fall seasons with their college teams at Northwestern and Syracuse, respectively.

“Me and Izzy Scane looked at each other before the game and said, ‘There’s a reason we’re supposed to be here,’” said Carney, who had a goal in the championship game and finished as the U.S. team’s fifth-leading scorer with 20 points.

They were prime examples of the college experience paying dividends for the U.S. team, but the six high school players were just as important, including a trio of stars with a year of high school still to go.

Wurzburger’s 40 points led the team, and her 19 assists were the most ever for a U.S. player in a U19 championship.

Leah Holmes, the youngest player, was the third-leading scorer with 25 points. She had a team-high four goals in the championship game.

Belle Smith’s 19 goals were the third-highest total on the team.

They also brought a fresh perspective.

“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,” Smith said. “I don’t want to wish away that time.”

Age proved to be no barrier for this team. The players grew closer in Canada. The vision that Amonte Hiller instilled in them — walking over the bridge together, looking into each other’s eyes, playing together, winning — came true.

Once more, they could exhale.