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The U.S. women's Sixes team celebrates gold at Canada's Super Sixes event.

Moreno's Clutch Saves Preserve USA Victory in Super Sixes Final

October 10, 2023
Matt Hamilton
Ryan McCullough

The U.S. took down Canada and avenged The World Games gold-medal loss in 2022.

OSHAWA, Ontario — Taylor Moreno stared down the dodge of Canada’s Erica Evans as she barreled toward the cage with less than 45 seconds left in a one-goal, goal-medal battle between the U.S. and Canada. Despite Courtney Taylor getting a stick in the way of Evans, she managed to fire a high-to-low attempt at Moreno.

Save.

The two-time Athletes Unlimited champion met Evans’ shot just inches off the turf at Civic Stadium. However, she left a bouncing rebound directly in front of the U.S. crease, which Megan Kinna scooped up and sent back toward Moreno, stick side high.

Save.

“I was just trying to stay locked in on the ball the whole time,” Moreno said. “I just cut the angle off as much as I could. I was at the right place at the right time.”

Moreno stared at the yellow ball in her stick for a moment, retreated behind the cage and sent a pass up field, allowing the U.S. to run out the clock and clinch an 8-7 gold-medal win over Canada in the second annual Women’s Super Sixes event Sunday in Oshawa, Ontario. 

Just two days after playing her first official sixes game, and less than 20 hours since a 14-10 defeat at the hands of the Canadians, Moreno helped fuel a come-from-behind victory — the U.S. women’s first in Canada since 2019.

“It just goes to show that you can have a tough game and come right back and be a gold-medal goalie,” coach Crysti Foote said. “It’s a very mental game down there and today, our defense was talking more and making her feel like she’s not on an island. Getting one save under your belt helps. She was hot and it just kept going.”

“This is my first sixes experience and we had little time to put this together,” Moreno said. “That’s what U.S. lacrosse is all about. It’s just about how we can come together, work together and perform as a unit on the field.”

Foote and her coaching staff were tasked with building cohesiveness among a group of 12 women with little experience playing together — and only five of which had prior experience with sixes. Baked into the motivation of the Super Sixes weekend was the sour taste of the gold-medal game loss to Canada in last July’s World Games.

The U.S. went to work creating a playing style based on stingy defense and timely scoring from names like Emily Hawryschuk, Ally Mastroianni and Dempsey Arsenault.

As Foote would say herself, the process wasn’t always pretty. However, the U.S. made crucial adjustments and rode a locked-in goalie to a victory.

“The hardest lesson we learned and the biggest test was how we’d respond [after the Canada loss],” Foote said. “We did a great job executing today. You win by one, you win. We made those plays and got better each day.”

The U.S. practiced once Friday afternoon before taking on Kenya in the opening game that night. The 30-2 victory gave the U.S. players a chance to experience sixes and share their passion for lacrosse with a Kenyan team that traveled across the world to compete.

Saturday, the U.S. was tested by the Haudenosaunee Nation and host Canada. In game one of the doubleheader, the U.S. trailed the Haudenosaunee at halftime before pulling away for a 13-9 victory to clinch an appearance in the gold medal game.

In Saturday’s nightcap, Canada stormed out to an early lead, using its physicality and stick skills to keep the U.S. off-balance throughout the 14-10 victory.

Foote and her staff watched the film Saturday night at the Residence Inn in Whitby, Ontario — a collaborative effort with the players, each of whom was still grasping the intricacies of the sixes discipline. Together, they built a game plan centered on aggressive defense and transition.

The U.S. used both to their advantage throughout Sunday’s one-goal win.

“We lost to Canada this weekend, but we won when it mattered,” Sam Swart said. “We had a lot of good experiences and lessons and our coaches instilled some great lessons in us. By the fourth quarter of the Haudenosaunee game, it just clicked. We were like ‘Let’s go win this thing.’”

FOR THE PIONEERS

Sam Swart remembered running up and down the grass fields at the Lake Placid Summit Classic in August of 2021 — excited to be part of something new and interested to see how sixes could grow.

Swart was part of the first event which saw both men’s and women’s teams putting on a sixes showcase for those in attendance in Upstate New York. The discipline was still in development.

“We played in Lake Placid, in the grass, in the middle of nowhere,” said Swart, the former Syracuse standout. “We’ve just come such a long way. I’m so proud of the first people who picked up a stick for sixes, to what we played with this weekend. I’ve watched it form from nothing.”

Swart was part of the sixes game in its infancy just two years ago. On Sunday, she joined in the dog pile after taking down Canada for the gold medal — the first win in three tries against Canada

“I was like ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you. Fool me three times, nah uh,’” Swart said. “I lost to them in The World Games and then on Saturday. Something inside of me fired me up. I knew we couldn’t let it happen again. When the horn sounded, it was all the hard work paying off. It was a weight off my chest.”

Swart gave credit to the college and professional stars that suited up for sixes alongside her over the past two years. However, she felt something different with the 12 women selected to compete for the Super Sixes crown. 

With names like Taylor Moreno, Ally Mastroianni, Lizzie Colson and Dempsey Arsenault joining the program, this may have been the most talented sixes roster the U.S. has ever assembled.

“Sixes is not like field in any way, and that’s why I love it,” Swart said. “Sixes is a gritty game. If you want to be part of it, get ready to be gritty and get pushed around. Get ready to score some gritty goals. Get ready to play some gritty defense.”

FLIP THE SWITCH

Before every game, Nicole Levy reaches into her bag and grabs a 99-cent, black-and-silver light switch her father gave her when she was in fourth grade.

She can’t take the field until she physically flips the switch — an ode to a lesson an energetic Levy learned while she was playing for her father on Long Island.

“You can have as much fun as you want, but when you step on that field, you have to have a competitive edge,” Levy said, remembering the advice of her father, Steve. “You have to flip the switch. Flip the switch.”

Levy brought that same light switch to Civic Stadium in Oshawa for her U.S. national team debut in any discipline. The former Syracuse star turned Athletes Unlimited pro got the call from Foote to join the team.

As talented as Levy has been throughout her lacrosse career, she was never named an All-American. After graduating from Syracuse in 2019, she went undrafted by the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League.

There was a time when Levy, a 200-point career scorer at Syracuse, had no direction for her future in lacrosse.

“I really thought my career was over,” Levy said.

Levy eventually made her way into the Athletes Unlimited talent pool as a crafty X attacker who could pull off highlight-reel goals in a flash. She slowly built herself a career off of her stick skills and her confidence, which she had battled with for years, began to rise.

This past fall, Levy suited up during one of a handful of U.S. women’s box ID Camps, held in preparation for next year’s world championship — her first taste of national team action. A few weeks later, Foote called and invited her to compete at the Super Sixes event.

“All my life I’ve been proving people wrong,” Levy said. “I’m 5-foot-2. I’m nothing special. When [Foote] reached out to me, I was like ‘Are you sure you meant to call me?’”

One of the people Levy needed to prove wrong was herself — and she did that this weekend. Sitting in the conference room during the first team meeting, Levy looked around at the talent that she’d be suiting up alongside. At first, she questioned whether she belonged in the room.

“The best players in the world are wearing the same uniform,” she said. “Why not go out there and give it a shot? I play against some of the best in the world over the summer at Athletes Unlimited. I didn’t think this would be too much of an adjustment.”

Teammate Amanda Johansen went down with an injury during the opening game against Canada, thus making Levy the oldest player to take the field during the U.S.’s final three games. What Levy thought would be a track meet turned into a battle of strategy between the U.S. and Canada.

Levy was anxious before taking the field wearing the red, white and blue. But after the opening minutes, she could play freely once again.

She flipped the switch.

By Sunday afternoon, Levy was wearing a gold medal around her neck — a long way from her career reaching its final destination.

“I thought this was all over,” Levy said. “But now it’s just begun.”