Editor’s note: Our chat with Alice Mercer is sponsored by SISU Guard, official mouthguard of Team USA. LaxAllStars is proud to be working with SISU and US Lacrosse to cover Team USA any way possible!
If you didn’t watch Team USA in action during the 2017 Rathbones Women’s Lacrosse World Cup, you missed out on one of the most dominant runs in international sports. The competition was very good, but the Americans were great. To me, this all started with excellent goaltending and a world class defense in front of the net. It’s pretty obvious that when the opposition can’t even maintain possession, your team gets a lot more time to spend trying to score.
One member of the defensive group, in fact the youngest, seems to prove that the fast and tough style isn’t going anywhere. Alice Mercer has done it all, at every level, and now she knows what it’s live to make a 8-0 run through the World Cup to reach the gold. She won three Maryland state championships in high school, before taking her talents an hour south to become a Terp. While in College Park, Alice competed in every game, all four years, earning her a list of accomplishments.
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On top of becoming a two-time National Champion in 2014 and 2015, Alice was named a Tewaaraton finalist, IWLCA Defender of the Year, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and First Team All-American, all in 2016. She was a First Team All-Conference from her sophomore season on and led the teams as a co-captain her senior season. If her abilities on the field don’t prove enough, her contagious attitude leads by example.
Always with the smile, Alice is quick with a joke or to strip you of possession. It just depends who’s team you’re on. Her positive impact is apparent on every team she plays for. I wanted to catch up with one of the stars of Team USA’s defense and current Niagara University women’s lacrosse assistant coach to learn how it all came to be.
Interview with Alice Mercer
MD: I was glued to the screen for all of the Team USA games this summer at the World Cup. What made the defense so dominant and how comfortable were you with the style?
AM: What made our defense so dominant was our aggressive, fast pace, in-your-face style of defense. We wanted our opponents to feel uncomfortable playing at the speed at which we wanted to play, and as a result become frazzled and make decisions quicker than they planned.
I was very comfortable playing this style of defense, I love playing fast and I enjoy playing a high pressure defense.
There’s plenty of tips on dodging, shooting, and draw controls out there, but what are some keys to the defensive game? How do you train to compete at the highest level?
Great team defense starts with great 1v1 defense. Being able to play solid 1v1 defense is a huge key. The best way to train for this is by grabbing some of your friends nearby and doing 1v1s with them from different spots (high, low, and elbow).
Most of my training was done by myself because I didn’t always have access to attackers or middies to play against, so I worked on my footwork doing ladders and cone drills. Other keys to the defensive game include attacking ground balls, being able to clear the ball well, and overall awareness of what’s going on around you.
Training to compete at the highest level means accepting and embracing the fact that you have to push yourself when nobody is there to push you.
From an outsider’s perspective, the bond shared by the whole team seemed completely unique. You guys looked like best friends off the field and completely trusting of each other on it. Was this really the case and if so, how does that sort of relationship form in such short time?
That was totally the case. Although it seemed like we built a strong relationship in such a short amount of time, in reality we had been building that bond since the first tryout 4 years ago.
Even though it wasn’t the same exact team over the past 4 years, the team climate never changed and because of that, old and new faces were welcomed with open arms and everyone bought into the process. This ongoing process of coming together and becoming one was just intensified when we left for England.
When you’re living together every day for over a month, you start to reach a level of vulnerability with your teammates that makes coming together that much easier because you appreciate the off-the-field version of each other just as much as the on-the-field version.
What’s your philosophy on the tone of game day? As a player and/or coach, do you prefer to keep things serious and focused, or does a lighthearted and fun approach seem to produce better results on the field?
Anyone who knows me knows that I prefer a lighthearted and fun approach to playing. Unfortunately, I think having fun and being unfocused are shoved into the same category, and I completely disagree with this. To me, keeping things lighthearted and fun, while still being focused, just helps to make people feel more comfortable and less up tight.
I play my worst style of lacrosse when I’m worried about making mistakes, which is usually what happens when I’m super serious. Every player and every coach has a different take on this, and the most important thing is finding what environment you work best in and what will produce better results on the field.
You seem to always have a great time in everything you do. What’s your approach to life and lacrosse that lets you enjoy every moment?
I want people to watch me play and see how much fun I’m having because I think it’s important for little girls to know that even on the biggest stage, at the end of the day it’s all about loving the game.
My approach to life and lacrosse has always been having a good time doing what you love. I try to put 100% of myself in everything I do and in every role I’m in, whether that’s player, coach, student, friend, sister, etc.
I also believe that it’s impossible to enjoy every moment if you don’t really invest in the people around you. Your life and play on the field will always benefit from building strong relationships with those around you.
What were some of your favorite memories, outside of the games, from the trip to England?
- Decorating our hallway and rooms with USA themed decorations
- Coming up with/practicing game day handshakes with Michelle Tumolo and Devon Wills
- Coffee at Heart & Soul Cafe every morning
- Opening Ceremony
- Hanging out while using the Normatec
Although you’re one of the younger athletes on Team USA, your career is not short on playing experience. What advice would you give to a young lady looking to take her game to the next level?
I would say to be proud, but never be satisfied with where you’re at because there’s always room for improvement.
From high school championships to a gold medal and so much in between, you’ve accomplished so much. Which title, award, or championship stands out as the most memorable to you and why?
Two stick out to me but for different reasons. The first one is the 2014 National Championship because it felt like a fairytale. It was the first time I played the sport I love on the biggest stage possible. It was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life winning with my best friends.
The World Cup sticks out to me because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a once in a lifetime experience playing with that group. It was an all-encompassing experience. Instead of spending a year preparing everyday with your team, you spend 4 years apart from each other, training on your own, and then spend 26 days living together. I have never felt so proud to be an American as I did everyday while we were in England.
When I talked to Devon Wills, I asked her to pick a Team USA athlete and ask them a question. She chose to ask you, if you could be one person, besides yourself, who would you be?
Probably Shawn Johnson– I love gymnastics and I always thought it would be a cool sport to try. Not to mention I would love to wear a leotard around.
Now I’m going to ask you to do the same…
What is the first question we should ask her?
What’s the most awkward thing that happens to you on a regular basis?
Thanks for your time, Alice!