UTICA, N.Y. — In the city where its inaugural journey will end, the U.S. Women’s Box National Team officially launched Sunday. Head coach Ginny Capicchioni welcomed about 20 athletes to the Utica University Nexus Center for a player ID camp, the first of three such camps that will be held ahead of tryouts as she builds the program from scratch.
Utica will host the 2024 World Lacrosse Box Championships next September at the Utica University Nexus Center, a gorgeous three-field playing facility that just opened in November, and the 3,800-seat Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
It’s the first time World Lacrosse has hosted a women’s box championship and Capicchioni walked the camp participants to the connected main arena before beginning the opening session.
“I wanted them to feel where they were going to play and what it was going to be like,” said Capicchioni, a trailblazing goalie who was the first female to play in the National Lacrosse League and for the U.S. men’s box team. “We made some declarations, and it was just very powerful expressing what I wasn't able to do 20 years ago. Regardless of what the team looks like in the future, this is the first day of women's box lacrosse in our country.”
The roster of players included three recent U.S. senior team training members from the field discipline — Molly Garrett, Emily Hawryschuk and Sam Swart — as well as former U.S. U19 training team member Rachel Vallarelli.
Like Capicchioni, Vallarelli has made a name for herself playing lacrosse with both men and women. Vallarelli led the nation in goals against average as a senior at Massachusetts in 2015, played in the United Women’s Lacrosse League and has played in several men’s box leagues.
A world championship event for women in box lacrosse is a dream come true.
“I always hoped,” Vallarelli said. “Coach Cap said earlier that it’s 20 years too late and I agree with that, but you know the next-best time is now. I’m super happy that it’s happening.”
That it comes with Capicchioni in charge makes it extra significant.
“I consider her a mentor for me, in the box lacrosse realm especially,” Vallarelli said. “Some people say, ‘Rachel you know you're the first in this and that’. Yes, because those leagues, those opportunities didn't exist when Cap played. There is no me without her. The opportunity to play for her is something so special.
Vallarelli brings more experience than most in the box game, but there’s tremendous interest coming from all corners of the women’s lacrosse world.
Swart and Hawryschuk took advantage of Syracuse’s fall box training in prep for their spring seasons each year. They learned under one of the best ever — Gary Gait — and want to take the next step.
After starring at Syracuse, Swart represented the U.S. in the Sixes discipline at The World Games in Alabama last summer, winning a silver medal. She then switched gears to play for Syracuse’s field hockey team last fall. When the box ID camps were announced, she was all in.
“I'm signing up for all three. I'm going to be here for every one of them,” Swart said. “It's a great opportunity to represent the country. Any chance I get to do that, I want to do it. I feel like a little kid again. It's like playing for my younger self.”
One of the most prolific scorers in Syracuse history with 341 career points, Hawryschuk appreciates the history of the moment.
“It's a huge step forward for the women's game,” she said. “I feel extremely thankful and lucky to be able to just have the opportunity to try out for something that really is historical.”
Hawryschuk has been close to suiting up for a USA team in international competition before — playing on the training teams for the 2015 U.S. U19 team and the most recent senior team. Making a championship roster motivates her.
“It gives me goosebumps to think about,” she said. “I've been lucky enough to be a part of the last couple of training teams for the field game, but to be able to put on a jersey and represent the USA in the first ever women's box world championship is really exciting. I do get chills thinking about it.”
It’s also a chance to keep playing a sport she loves, something that resonated with former Michigan defender Quinn Melidona. Capicchioni was one of Melidona’s coaches at Michigan and the opportunity to get a stick back in her hands in a formal setting for the first time since earning All-Big Ten recognition in 2021 was too good to pass up, even though she has limited box experience.
“As soon as I laced up my shoes and put the gear on, it's like coming home,” Melidona said.
Melidona almost had the sport taken away once before when her senior year was cut short due to the pandemic in 2020. She jumped at the chance to come back for the extra year granted by the NCAA, even walking away from a job offer. Now she will pursue history and a dream.
Melidona was in Towson last summer to watch the U.S. women’s field team win a gold medal.
“Seeing those girls with USA across their chest, standing up at the podium, it's a feeling you can't describe,” Melidona said. “I'm excited for the opportunity to put one on.”
That still drives Vallarelli, more than a decade after she first joined the U.S. national team program as a high school athlete in 2010.
“I train like crazy,” Vallarelli said. “I put everything into it and the support means so much to me. It's opened so many doors for me to be connected with so many amazing people. The opportunity to wear USA across my chest again would just be unbelievable. There are there are no words really.”
Capicchioni envisioned these moments when she pursued the head coaching job. Now, months of planning have started to come to fruition with players actually on the floor.
“It was pretty powerful,” Capicchioni said. “You try to imagine what it looks like, but it's a spiritual thing. Now women are playing. We kept saying to them, ‘team one, day one.’”