Epke, Suriano Lead U.S. U20 Training Team in 16-9 Win Over Canada at Fall Classic
Madison Epke controlled 10 draws, and Julia Suriano made five second-half saves.
SPARKS, Md. — Friday night was a long time coming for Madison Epke.
She had been on the precipice of competing for a U.S. team before, making it to the final tryout phase during the National Team Development Program the past few years, but she never got the final nod to play for a USA Select team.
It was a different story this summer, when Epke parlayed her experience at James Madison last spring into a try out for the U.S. Women’s U20 National Team. The final roster for that team has yet to be set, but Epke finally got to play at the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic on Friday night with the 42-player training team, securing 10 draws and giving the U.S. a major possession edge over Canada in a 16-9 win.
“I’ve tried out for these [teams] before, and this is my first time actually making it, which is awesome,” Epke said. “Because of college and because of the speed of college, I was able to come out here and compete at my best level and feel so comfortable. And I think that just came from everything I learned from the coaches and the players last season.”
Thrust into the James Madison starting lineup due to injury last season, Epke was a consistent presence as a freshman. She controlled 72 draws as JMU’s only freshman starter, and she showed under the lights at USA Lacrosse headquarters just how valuable her draw skills can be.
Quick off the whistle, Epke was a master tactician on the circle, and the U.S. finished with a 23-5 edge on draws. Canada won just one draw in the first half.
“I think my big thing about the draw is just always having an offensive mindset,” Epke said, noting the importance of turning the draw into transition opportunities. “So, never trying to focus on what they’re doing, being defensive about other people, but focusing on yourself and your team and trying to play it your way. Like a chess game, is what my coach has always said.”
That overwhelming draw advantage — 10-4 in the second half — was a major factor in allowing the United States to grab momentum. The U.S. trailed 7-6 at halftime despite Canada’s ineffectiveness in the center circle. But continuing to earn possessions was key.
The final 30 minutes were nearly all U.S. Madison Smith (one goal, one assist) finished a feed from Hannah Rudolph to knot it at 7 early in the third quarter, then Maggie Weisman (three goals) scored 72 seconds later for an 8-7 lead that the U.S. would only build upon.
It helps when your goalie can turn defense into offense like Julia Suriano. The Maryland freshman, just six weeks into her NCAA career, looked far from overmatched. Standing at 5’3”, Suriano doesn’t occupy much space between the pipes. Her play, though, makes up for it. She made five saves in relief of first-half goalie Jocelyn Torres (three saves) and was key in keeping the offense humming.
Her save with 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter turned into a Brigid Duffy goal 22 seconds later for a 10-7 lead.
“It’s absolutely surreal, and the amount of pride that I feel just to be representing this country and to be with the best players in this country is just a surreal feeling,” Suriano said. “And I’m so proud of myself. I’m proud to say that I’m a part of this training team.”
The United States’ lead grew to 12-8 by the end of the third quarter, and Kaitlyn Davies extended it to 13-8 after another Suriano deflection sent the U.S. into transition mode. Suriano said she’s been picking the brain of Maryland All-American goalie Emily Sterling, who has been a valuable resource during fall ball.
It’s helped her to assess intricacies of the game in real time, allowing her to react quicker on shot attempts.
“I think I was able to read when they were going to shoot and attack that spot quickly, almost before the ball was released,” Suriano said. “When I would come out, when I would hold back, there’s a lot of little things that people really don’t pick up on if you’re not a goalie. But it’s just all these teeny calculations that you make in the moment.”
Torres and Suriano benefitted from a defense that caused five turnovers and was active in disrupting passing and shooting lanes. Davies, Grace Turner, Grace Callahan, Jordyn Harrison, Stella Ray and Paris Masaracchia all factored into Friday’s defensive effort.
Next up for the U.S. is a matchup against defending Division I national champion Northwestern on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern at USA Lacrosse HQ. Kelly Amonte Hiller, the U20 coach, will coach against her husband, Scott Hiller, who will helm the Wildcats in her stead. The U20 training team features six Wildcats — Abby LoCascio, Alexis Ventresca, Alex Blake, Smith, Madison Taylor and Francesca Argentieri — and one future Wildcat in Rudolph.