BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — As the U.S. women’s Sixes team walked off PNC Field at halftime of their The World Games opener against Australia — a half characterized by a few growing pains — Belle Smith pulled Madison Doucette aside.
The U.S. had struggled to find its offense early on and trailed Australia after one quarter. Doucette was locked in, keeping her team in the game, but both could sense the Australian team was tiring,
“‘Hey, I do transition at BC,’” Smith told Doucette. “‘That’s my job. Hit me.’”
Doucette looked at Smith, nodding her head.
“‘Ok, I got you,’” she answered.
The two college lacrosse stars were once teammates on the U19 national team that won gold in 2019. Now, they’re two of the leading voices on a young core for the U.S. Sixes Team in Birmingham, Alabama for The World Games.
Together, Smith and Doucette led a second-half effort that proved why the U.S. are among the favorites to win a gold medal at the World Games on the heels of the U.S. women's senior team's gold medal at the World Lacrosse Women's Championship. The U.S. pushed in transition throughout the second half, pulling away from an Australian team that featured a few names that played in the Women’s World Championship in Towson en route to a 16-6 victory.
Madison Ahern dodged her way to two goals and dished off three assists to lead the U.S. offensive performance, while Doucette chipped in 12 saves and fellow U19 alums Smith, Kasey Choma and Caitlyn Wurzburger each had four points in the big win to kick off The World Games — where Sixes is being displayed as part of a 10-day multi-sport global event taking over the city this summer.
The U.S. roster features a core of players competing in their first official international competition in the red, white and blue. However, those with the experiences from 2019 helped lead the home team out of a first-quarter rut and into a blowout win.
“Yeah, we haven’t played together in a while, but it’s like riding a bike,” Doucette said of her U19 teammates. “Every time you play, you shake off the rust and get going. It’s a different atmosphere, but having that experience of international lacrosse is fantastic. We knew we could execute even though it was rocky at the start.”
Tuesday was the beginning of a process that started in 2021, when Regy Thorpe convinced Florida women’s lacrosse coach Mandy O’Leary to apply to become a coach of the U.S Sixes team. After the Super Sixes event at USA Lacrosse headquarters and a training camp in June, O’Leary had already fallen for this roster, and the new discipline in general.
“When Regy said, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t coached U.S. in a long, long time,’” O’Leary said. “The moment that I stepped foot on the field with these players, that was my why. Immediately after we left the field, I was like, ‘I’m in.’ This has lived up to all the expectations, and now we’re here.”
The best of Sixes was on display Tuesday, but it took a quarter for the U.S. to find its groove. Australia led 2-1 after the first eight minutes after two early penalties on the U.S. and timely goals from Theo Kwas and Bonnie Yu.
Doucette’s second-quarter saves helped fuel a strong second quarter that included two goals from Ahern. The U.S. took the 6-3 lead into halftime, but knew they had yet to reach their peak.
Smith helped kickstart the U.S. offense in the third quarter, using the transition to its advantage. Co-coach Regy Thorpe called a fifth defender to begin heading up field at the end of the shot clock in order to get a head start in transition, and the Australian defense could not keep up.
The fast-paced, run-and-gun attack wore down Australia, and the U.S. scored 10 straight goals over the third and fourth quarters to pull away in convincing fashion. It took a few minutes for the U.S. to develop momentum, but once it did, they gave fans in transition a showcase of high-voltage lacrosse, many for the first time.
In the crowd was Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin, who met with the U.S. team in the locker room before the game. He took a picture with the 12-team roster and offered words of encouragement.
His words worked.
“All of the girls were like, ‘He’s the coolest, nicest mayor I’ve ever met,’” O’Leary joked. “I was like, ‘How many mayors have you met?’”