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| Jul 16, 2022

U.S. Falls to Canada, Earns Silver in The World Games Final

By Matt Hamilton

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The U.S. women’s Sixes locker room was quiet when coaches Regy Thorpe and Mandee O’Leary addressed the team for the final time at The World Games.

O’Leary thanked her team for their effort and the way they built chemistry over the six-day international event. Thorpe gave credit to the Canadians’ veteran team that won gold, and encouraged the 12 players on the Sixes team to use Saturday night’s defeat as a learning experience.

Then, it was the players’ turn to speak. The mood inside the U.S. locker room began to shift. Haley Hicklen, one of the veterans on the U.S. team, spoke first.

“You guys have to remember that we’re pioneers here,” Hicklen said. “We got to build this from the ground up.”

A handful of players offered their thoughts on the future of the U.S. women’s national team program. Madison Doucette broke her silence to add perspective to her team’s loss to Canada in The World Games title game.

“[USA Lacrosse] took a chance on us,” she said. “We are the next generation of this program. We slipped up tonight, but we have a chance to win gold in 2026 and 2028, right? We can keep the red, white and blue on top. This is just the beginning.”

The sting of Saturday night’s 14-12 loss to Canada in The World Games gold-medal game in Birmingham, Alabama won’t dissipate any time soon. A team with an average age of 21, the youngest in the tournament, attempted to follow the senior national team’s world championship performance with another in The World Games. 

The U.S. fell short in a back-and-forth battle with Canada — a team that featured several players from its world championship team. After jumping out to an early lead, the U.S. struggled to maintain momentum and a Canadian team led by Dana Dobbie took advantage en route to the program’s first women’s gold medal since the 2015 U19 world championship.

“We tried to use our speed,” Smith said. “We knew we were younger, but sometimes that caught up to us. It became too fast to play and not so much smart.”

“We pushed early on and saw a lot of good opportunities early on,” O’Leary said. “Our man-up needed to be a little sharper.”

The fast start gave the U.S. plenty of confidence in the first quarter, with a raucous crowd cheering them on. Paige Petty, Smith and Kasey Choma each scored to give the U.S. a 3-1 lead early, thanks to transition opportunities and multiple acrobatic saves from Madison Doucette. 

The offensive performance continued into the second quarter, where the U.S. pushed its lead to 6-2 thanks to an Ellie Masera transition goal. The game began to settle into 5-on-5 play in the second quarter, allowing Dobbie to drop two goals and Canada to use their physical advantage to force turnovers. Canada closed the second quarter with three goals in 39 seconds (Dobbie, Brooklyn Walker-Welch, Lauren Black) to cut the U.S. deficit to one goal at 6-5 going into halftime. 

“Defensively, we did a nice job but needed to push out a little more,” O’Leary said. “They got those goals in the second quarter and it change the game.”

Smith dropped a pair of goals in a back-and-forth third quarter, while Canada’s Madalyn Baxter dodged past the U.S. defense en route to three goals in the quarter. Still, the U.S. took the 11-10 lead into the fourth quarter — a score that was confirmed after a lengthy delay after the scoreboard read 11-11.

The U.S. couldn’t take advantage of man-up opportunities in the fourth quarter, and the Canadians made them pay. When the U.S. offense couldn’t find high-percentage chances, and goalie Lauren Spence made several quality saves, the momentum shifted back to Canada. Dobbie cashed in her fourth, Aurora Cordingley and Erica Evans sandwiched goals around Smith’s fourth, and Nicole Perroni made it 14-12 with 4:14 left.

Down two goals and man-up, Hicklen forced a turnover and pushed the ball to Marge Donovan, whose shot glanced off Spence’s helmet. The U.S. turned the ball over shortly after. With less than a minute remaining but with possession, the U.S. was called for two many players on the field, sealing the Canada victory.

“That fourth quarter, they got the best of us,” O’Leary said. “We needed to finish off a bit stronger.”

The game seemed strongly in the U.S.’s favor in the first half, but the Canadians forced mistakes in the second half to earn the gold medal. The loss was tough to take for a team of talented college players, hoping to win a second U.S. gold medal in one week.

However, players on the U.S. Sixes knew this week represented much more than the final result.

“The whole point of Sixes was to grow the sport and get it into the 2028 Olympics and a bigger platform for the world,” Smith said. “All three teams out here today did that. It’s exciting. We didn’t get the gold medal like we wanted to do, but we helped grow the sport.”

The World Games was a step forward for the sport, but the players on the U.S. Sixes team, the ones that could suit up in the Olympics in 2028, now have plenty of motivation for the coming years.

“In the past few years, you’ve seen the U.S. win gold,” Smith said. “Although we wanted that today, having another country take it should put a little fire under our a**. Potentially with the Olympics coming in a few years, the playing field is getting more even. We’re not going to let that happen again.”