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Madison Epke is one of 32 players hoping to make the final U20 women's roster.

Pros, Ex-College Stars Provide Top-Notch Scrimmage Chance for U20 Hopefuls

June 21, 2024
Jake Epstein
USA Lacrosse

SPARKS, Md. — As the lights beamed down upon Tierney Field during Thursday evening’s U.S. Women’s U20 National Team training camp, a squad of Athletes Unlimited veterans and college sensations awaited the 32 U.S. team hopefuls.

Just three weeks removed from capturing a national championship with Boston College, Shea Baker welcomed the challenge.

“The beauty of that is you get to play with these girls and now have them all on your team,” Baker said. “You’re not playing against them anymore in tryouts. … Playing against elite competition is a great learning experience, and all you can do is grow.”

In the three-day camp’s buildup, assistant coach Michelle Tumolo and her fellow staff members texted prospective players to form a formidable foe for the invitees to scrimmage against. They covered their bases with local coaches, and athletes began recruiting other athletes.

For the first time since October’s Fall Classic at USA Lacrosse headquarters, a U20 session extended beyond intra-squad matchups.

“We’re going to play teams like Canada, England and so forth that are definitely very talented, but to play some of the best in the U.S. is only going to prepare us to the best of our ability,” Tumolo said.

Eventually, Isabella Peterson, Emma Ward, Madison Doucette, Sam Swart, Ally Palermo, Shaylan Ahearn and Jill Girardi were among those who trotted onto the turf. What followed can only be deemed a star-studded showdown ahead of sundown.

With a slew of All-Americans and dynamic talents lining up on both ends of the field, players presented a plethora of nifty feeds, clinical conversions and showstopping saves. The on-field product left Tumolo — who spent more than a decade in the U.S. women’s national team system — in awe.

“I put myself in their shoes, and I’m like, ‘Dang, I don’t know if I can hang with these guys now,’” Tumolo said. “The talent is only getting better, and it’s really fun to be a part of. It makes me grateful to be here, and I also feel like I can be a better coach because of it.”

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For JJ Suriano, the youngest of three goalies invited to training camp, her time between the pipes presented yet another avenue to display the lessons she learned working under Maryland’s four-year starting goalkeeper Emily Sterling — and her growth since last July’s initial tryout period.

Suriano, Shea Dolce and Fran Argentieri each fended off apparent sure-fire finishes during their respective stints in the cage.

“When I first came in [to last July’s tryouts], I hadn’t had my first college season yet,” Suriano said. “I’m a different goalie than I was last year. I’ve grown a lot mentally and physically. This journey has taught me a lot about myself and that I can do hard things.”

While the U20 squad outdueled the self-proclaimed “oldies” in a five-period scrimmage, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller told the two teams in her postgame address that the session will prove invaluable toward her group’s success at August’s World Lacrosse U20 Women’s World Championship.

The scrimmage mimicked the 10-v-10 format that Amonte Hiller’s group will encounter in Hong Kong, China. As such, players and coaches focused on subbing and on-field intricacies throughout the session.

“It’s been fun to get out here and just play freely,” Northwestern attacker Madison Taylor said. “The game is a little different [from] regular lacrosse. There’s a lot more space, so it gives me a lot more opportunity to do new things.”

Amonte Hiller and her staff have encouraged the invitees to experiment with the format and be unafraid to slip up, Michigan defender Jordyn Harrison said.

“Kelly really appreciates when we try something new, even if it doesn’t end up our way,” Harrison said. “Me being fearless has allowed me to grow my game because by making those mistakes, I’ve been able to get better and work on little things that I hadn’t thought about before.

Harrison, who made 19 starts at Michigan during her sophomore season after transferring from Richmond, faced off against several U.S. hopefuls last year. But she said Thursday’s scrimmage gave her the chance to meet more than a dozen new friends with whom she shares a genuine love for the game.

Alongside newly forged bonds, former college teammates like James Madison’s superstar tandem of Maddie Epke and Peterson donned different colors.

With Peterson’s eligibility exhausted and her recent signing with Athletes Unlimited, Epke will inherit the Dukes’ attacking reins next spring. For now, she’s looking to play a role toward a potential gold medal bid.

“Everyone who comes here is a great player, and [we’re] looking to work together as a bigger group overall,” Epke said. “The more we play together, the more and more comfortable we get knowing each other.”

Staring down her second consecutive World Championship window — which stands less than two months away — Amonte Hiller and her staff must narrow down the field to a final roster of 22 players in the near future.

Regardless of the impendenting cuts, Baker said the group has made significant groundwork on forging a fused identity.

“What’s beautiful is it’s just a melting pot; everyone comes from different places,” Baker said. “Everyone comes with a different spunk to their game, and you learn more about each other and incorporate those creative plays into the game.”