Welcome to Day 3 of the Lax All Stars blog at The World Games 2017, in Wroclaw, Poland.
This morning started in a very positive mood with an appropriately short and sweet opening ceremony. Australia, once again, leading out the teams in their fetching golden raincoats, of which I am sure that they are glad they’ve got some much mileage out of this (summer) July.
Poland came out last as the host nation looking extremely proud that they were able to participate in this event. By circumstance, they lined up right next to their 10:00 am opponents, the newly crowned World Champions, the USA.
Poland versus the World Champs
As the two teams lined up for the pre-game ceremony, the crowd continued to excitedly file through the gates. Numbers were reaching around 600 at this early stage, littered with a few traveling friends and family of the players. The majority supported the white and red and were in fine fettle from the start.
As history was made as lacrosse debuted at The World Games, so did the very first draw control, won by Poland’s Kamila Sadowska against USA’s Megan Douty. The partisan crowd erupted into surprised applause and cheers, buoyed for what was going to be an entertaining game.
As soon as Sadowska tried to move the ball on, Douty had her revenge as the ‘American Squeeze’ immediately forced a turnover. The ball was moved wide to Michelle Tumolo, who was awarded a free position from shooting space.
To the crowd’s surprise, she sent the shot wide right. Tumolo received the ball back almost immediately from the restart and could not atone for her error. The Polish goalkeeper, Marta Neumann, outstretched her leg to deflect the ball wide.
Turning It On
On the very next possession for USA, the ball found its way to Kelly Rabil on her favourite campsite just above the left elbow.
Immediately Rabil was dancing her usual merry tune to draw her defender into shooting space, and took the opportunity from the whistle to take an early shot past Neumann’s left hip side. USA 1-0.
It became obvious to all on USA’s second possession off the draw that they intended to establish an early lead to leave room for entertainment and errors later in the game.
They pushed offence immediately and Kirsten Carr sent a free position shot bottom left to make the score 2-0. I noticed during the set up that USA really did come to have some fun.
Devon Wills, USA’s usual goalkeeper, had suited up as an outfield player laughing and smiling on the restrainer, hopefully relishing the freedom to move even further up the field than usual.
Gussie Johns had stepped into the net for this game and again had occupied a position closer to the USA’s restrainer than her own goal.
Rallying Support for Poland
After a little bit of scrappy play from USA and another minute of attacking possession, the large crowd suddenly erupted into chants and songs. “Polska, Polska, Polska!” rang out from the renovated steel shed.
The Polish players were encouraged by their fans and committed a few overzealous fouls for heaving the USA’s ball carrier to the ground. Twice. Big Pawel, the endearing Polish announcer at the side of the pitch, was whipping the crowd into a frenzy. “Cheer on the girlz,” with “Who are you supporting today?” The World Games was liquid entertainment.
USA were being given a farmyard of space in the fan to cut through by the Polish defence, both from the crease and from the hash marks. Taylor Cummings was the first to benefit with time and space to shoot. Now usually this type of opportunity was meat and drink for a player of Cummings’ calibre. However, uncharacteristically she shot straight into the Polish goalkeeper’s breadbasket.
This was followed by the most rapturous cheer so far by the Blako-Czerwoni faithful. Hopes that this generousity would continue from the USA were dashed as Cummings was fed again from the turnover by Alyssa Murray, and #21 buried it into the top right hand corner.
Pulling it Together
For the USA the wastefulness continued on dropped catches inside and outside the 15m fan. Possibly as a result of the occasion, or the unusually large spaces they were being afforded as the Polish defence backed off or lost cutters. Alice Mercer hit Neumann from close range on crease, and then immediately picked the ball up to dink it past the goalkeeper, increasing the score to 4-0.
At this point in the game, the USA were finding unassailable possession off the draw. Ally Carey moved the ball at her discretion from the restart straight into her teammates’ sticks, and Brooke Griffin was found easily on crease by Alyssa Murray to make it 5-0 USA.
With 10 minutes gone in the game, the USA began to slow their attack down, spinning the ball multiple times before the crowd feign a slow clap. During this, the USA demonstrated perfect passing and catching technique, keeping the ball protected from their defender, switching smoothly and passing to the opposite side with the same languid action.
If there was a winner in this exhibition, Michelle Tumolo would win gold. It was Tumolo who sped up the play to feed Griffin for her second in five minutes.
Just Slowing Them Down
During this play Rabil was fouled and the pain forced her to leave the field for a few moments. The crowd enthused again at a decision of a cover by USA, however Poland could not string any passes together under such intense pressure.
Aleksandra Zbikowska broke through this pressure fantastically half way through the first half, picking up a loose ground ball and moved well away from her chasing defenders. She took off towards the sideline whilst protecting the ball between her shoulders, and galloped down the field. The USA defence is relentless though and Tumolo tracked back and forced the ball away from Zbikowska and reset the pattern of USA control.
With 16 minutes left in the first half, the first occasion of showboating came out as Alice Mercer tried a behind the back shot, which bounced wide. Griffin immediately gathered behind the cage and fed a cutting Alyssa Murray for a simple finish. 7-0.
The next few minutes play was intermingled with more basic catching errors outside the fan, and the most brilliant off ball movement inside the fan. Our surest sign that the dedication the US team brings to the sport is the way they move together to correct an error and regather possession.
Setting a Standard
The Polish team now knew the level they are aiming to reach to make it into the Blue Division and face the World Champions more regularly.
USA’s 8th goal was a beautiful lesson of how to draw the third slide into shooting space. As Cummings and Mercer moved the ball between themselves across the fan. Upon re-receiving the ball, Cummings turned to her left, not using the defender in front of her, and fed Becca Block, who cut from inside the 15m and finished with aplomb.
If the USA’s 8th was spectacular, their 9th was a true garbage can goal. As the Polish defence remained resolute and managed to get a stick onto the feed from Alyssa Murray, Marie McCool was the first to the groundball and dunked it over the advancing Neumann.
Mercer finished off USA’s scoring in the first half with a shot across the keeper from a pinpoint feed from Murray. 10-0 at halftime.
After the Break
The second half began in renewed hope that Poland would manage to get a goal against the talent packed USA team. Yet, the US found their stride again from the restart with goals from Block (assisted Cummings) and Jen Russell (assisted Murray).
The understanding between such a seasoned international team now having spent the last three weeks living with each other was evident in USA’s 13th. Murray and Mercer played give and goes with each other down the left hand side of the field, with Murray making the final pass up from GLE to Mercer on a scything cut, who finishes top right.
The next five minutes was a fresh look at the US players as they switched into their fun loving mode. It started by attempting behind the back shots and passes with surprisingly high inaccuracy, and thus during this period Poland began to see far more of the ball, managing to cause turnovers regularly.
Alicja Ogorzalek and Anna Lisiecka both getting their names on the stats sheet; a constant thorn in their side in attempting to clear the ball was USA’s Marie McCool, who was the primary cause and occasional recipient of each groundball turned over back to her side.
Not Giving Up
Marta Neumann, playing in goal for Poland against the highest scoring international team at the World Cup, with 22:11 minutes remaining in the second half, pulled off a world class save against Brooke Griffin.
Griffin had received the ball across her body and had tried to finish quickly in the opposite top right corner, but Neumann exploded across her goal line to block the ball and had the presence of mind to get a strong clear away immediately.
With Poland growing more confident by the minute, their forward attacks became more frequent and more successful. Ilona Flisikowska picked up a groundball dropped by Jen Russell on the USA’s attacking restrainer, switching cleanly to her left hand and sprinting away along the touchline, using it as protection from the USA’s ferocious ride.
Flisikowska took the ball all the way into the USA’s defence and won a detaining foul, which the crowd roared in appreciation after being a little subdued at the start of the half. The cheers came in the knowledge of how much of an achievement this was, considering the disparity of lacrosse development, resources and ability between the two nations.
Doing More of What They Do
USA eventually gained possession back and broke the lull in their own play with two crease rolls from Murray, first feeding up the left elbow for Douty to fire home top right, and then on the second roll to Carey cutting down centre hash. Carey finished to make it 15-0, USA.
Murray herself then got on the scoresheet with a dodge down the right elbow and a right handed finish. The fans were finally treated to a spectacular behind the back finish by Cummings, fed by Griffin from behind the goal.
Cummings displaying the proper technique and twisting her body through so that her ball carrying shoulder rotated towards the goal before releasing the shot with her hands. 17-0.
Wrapping It Up
USA’s 18th goal was a simple backside cut from the left GLE, Griffin to Murray, who shot right handed across the keeper from a tight angle to the top right corner.
Their penultimate goal of the game was even better than Cummings’ previous BTB. Griffin passed the ball up the left elbow to Murray, and Murray noticing the Griffin was moving into the smallest of gaps on the crease, returned the ball. As Griffin’s defender engaged, Griffin caught the ball and immediately squeezed a behind the back shot past Neumann from the tightest of angles.
USA scored their 20th with just under 2 minutes remaining, again created by Alyssa Murray, who wanted to prove herself after missing the last two weeks as the USA’s World Cup alternate, running along the back of the crease and feeding Block to score.
At the final whistle, the teams gathered around their respective goalies and reset along the half way line. Every single Polish and American player had the biggest beaming grin on their face. Regardless of the result, this was a special moment for lacrosse and both teams understood they had created lacrosse history.
With these special memories for the Polish players on the pitch, to have run with the best team in the world for 70 minutes and not let their heads drop once, there was one last moment to add.
Never Forget a Moment Like This
As the Polish players came down to all of the fans to say thank you for the support, the 600 strong crowd all rushed forward. The players, led by Agnieszka Kosmala, ran along the length of the fencing giving everyone a big high 5.
The image of the tournament already etched in the happiness on their faces that they have proudly represented their nation at their home World Games, and have stood resolutely to face the USA.
I can imagine the mixed team photos will be going up onto the players’ mantlepieces very soon and remaining pride of place. These women will be ready with a story of that time they played the World Champions in the very first match of lacrosse at The World Games.