Athletes Unlimited Women's Lacrosse
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Athletes Unlimited is the Future of Women’s Lacrosse

Athletes Unlimited women’s lacrosse will play 24 games this summer. They compete on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday during four consecutive weeks. All the action originates from the USA Lacrosse headquarters. The athletes commit to a four-week bubble living in a nearby hotel. All the games will be televised on ESPN+, ESPNU, or ESPN2. 

If you live within a two-hour radius and have a young women’s lacrosse player in your household, a trip to watch AU lacrosse is mandatory this summer. This is ultra high-level ball. The rosters are stacked with All-Americans and World Team players. Every one of the 56 women in the player pool all tote a hefty resume. The opportunity to continue to play professional lacrosse beyond college is new for women’s lacrosse. This endeavor represents the highest quality of the sport. Women’s lacrosse improves as a whole because of Athletes Unlimited, as they push through the infancy stages. 

The format is cutting edge. Players compete for points on a weekly basis. There are team-based points awarded for winning a quarter or a game. There are individual stat-based points to be accumulated by performance. After each week of three games per team, the top four AU point scorers become captains for the following week. They draft new rosters on Monday night. Tuesday and Wednesday are used for practice and gel time. 

At 7:13am on Sunday in Baltimore it’s 70 degrees outside. Not a cloud in the sky. Every hour the furnace intensifies. By noon it’s 92 degrees in Sparks, MD. It feels like a Bikram Yoga studio, 104 degrees on the field. 

I arrived at 12:30pm for a 1:00pm draw. USA Lacrosse was brimming with young fans and parents. Dennis T’ is the DJ and rocking the mic as the PA announcer. Goalie Mira Shane dances through the heat wave. Food trucks welcome snackers. It smells like teen spirit with excitement in the air. 

The game between the Purple Team (Read) and Blue Team (Glynn) finished with drama. A two-point goal with 5.9 seconds to go, tied the score at nine apiece. Ally Kennedy scored the game winner in sudden victory. Charlotte North stuck a right-handed alley dodge from distance, the type of goal you rarely see in women’s lacrosse. Dressed in purple this week, Charlotte is clearly the crowd favorite and easily identifiable by style. North finished Week 1 in 17th place, as the purple team only won 3 of 12 quarters. The point structure is incentivized by team success. I love that.

Team Orange, under the leadership of captain Sam Apuzzo, won 11 of 12 quarters. They won the week. Apuzzo is the top passer in Athletes Unlimited and arguably all of women’s lacrosse. Goalie Taylor Moreno was a brick wall. Gilbert is tied for the goal-scoring lead and didn’t turn it over much (-8). Johansen’s all-around game is elite. She stockpiles points for groundballs, caused turnovers, and draw controls. After each game, the players vote for three MVPs on an iPad. The top vote getter claims 45 points, then 30 points and then 15 points for third place. 

As a fan watching from the bleachers, I found myself wondering about the individual scoring race. The in-house jumbotron can be an updated leaderboard with player standings posted during every TV timeout and quarter break. Paying fans should be able to see a real-time player scoreboard. Can you imagine attending a golf event and not being able to see a real-time leaderboard? Post the leaderboard, early and often.

I spoke with UNC alum Sammy Jo Tracy after the game. This summer is her second with AU.

“It helps to be a veteran here because the style of play is so physical. I think it’s the most fun, and fastest game we’ve ever had.” 
-Sammy Jo Tracy, Athletes Unlimited Athlete

The Athletes Unlimited rules make sense and are a huge upgrade from the whistle-happy NCAA brand and the international ‘stall ball’ women’s lacrosse rules. There are fewer needless stoppages. There aren’t as many free position shots. Athletes Unlimited uses a two-point line which creates end-of-game drama. Huge props to AU for evolving the rules to make the game better for the player and the fans, not the coach. That’s a meaningful power shift. 

My one rule adjustment would be to shorten the games just a hair. The games seem to drag into the two-hour range. With three games per week and limited subs, the athletes and sun splashed fans would be better suited to shorten the contests.

The women are all business and camaraderie is strong. The AU staff does marvelous work to keep everyone happy and healthy.

“Socially this is unbelievable. I don’t think I’ve ever left the hotel. I live with Marie McCool. For four weeks we wanted to live together. We are taking care of her dog. With the switch up of teams each week, it makes you get out of your comfort zone and meet new people, to be friends with people you wouldn’t normally hang out with. There are no cliques.” 
-Sammy Jo Tracy, Athletes Unlimited Athlete

The Athletes Unlimited experience and month-long event is like a national convention for elite women’s lacrosse players. The only downside I see with revolving rosters is merchandising because players shift teams every week, they play in different colored jerseys. The look is sharp and clean. I like it. But that multiplicity of colors, impacts player based merchandising opportunities. If I want to purchase a Charlotte North AU jersey, what color is most identifiable with her as a pro? She really doesn’t have a home uniform. Do they sell North jerseys in all four team colors? Marquee stars need to be marketed, promoted and merchandised.

Three games a week, for four weeks. That’s legit. Sammy Jo hinted that drafting for chemistry is more important that drafting outright talent. She senses that the best teams have the correct puzzle pieces.

“Monday we take our rest. Monday night is the draft. Once the team is selected it becomes like speed dating. You have to get to know who likes what, so we can click right off the bat and create that chemistry. By the end of game three each week, you’ve figured out your teammates and you don’t want to leave them and start over the next week.”
-Sammy Jo Tracy, Athletes Unlimited Athlete

Competing in this galaxy of stars can be challenging. Rehab and prep like a pro. Eat like a pro. Sleep like a pro. 

“Physically you have to be on top of your game. I prefer to ice bath after every game, roll out, make sure I’m hydrating and eating right…because your body is going to be worn down by game three.”
-Sammy Jo Tracy, Athletes Unlimited Athlete

Can you hit the town and light up Charm City on Sunday night?

“I’m a little old for that…my night looks more like pajamas and face masks for a girl sleep over. The young guns like to go out.”
-Sammy Jo Tracy, Athletes Unlimited Athlete

Sammy Jo is now an Assistant Coach at Harvard. She celebrated her 28th birthday on Monday. She grew up in Westchester county, NY, watching men’s lacrosse for cues.

“There is nothing better than watching pro lacrosse. When I was a kid, I watched the MLL and men’s college games. Now, young girls can watch Athletes Unlimited. They can find inspiration by watching us. It’s wonderful we have this stage. They can watch somebody like them, who’s playing their game.” 
-Sammy Jo Tracy, Athletes Unlimited Athlete

Athletes Unlimited women’s lacrosse is a dream factory, and that’s a great thing.