BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The looks on the faces of the U.S. women’s Sixes team as they walked off the field were ones of excitement, and a bit of relief. After two days of up-and-down play against Japan and Australia, the U.S. got what it wanted.
As the sun set over PNC Field in Birmingham, Alabama, coaches Mandee O’Leary and Regy Thorpe could focus not just on adjustments from the game that just ended, but look ahead to The World Games semifinals — and what they were getting for dinner at Jim & Nick’s BBQ.
Simply put, every player on the Sixes team contributed on Thursday.
“It’s like saying who’s the MVP of an All-Star Game. They all stood out,” O’Leary joked about who of the 12 players made an impact. “You look at the defensive effort from Marge [Donovan] and Haley [Hicklen]. You look at Danielle [Pavinelli] and Belle [Smith] and Madison [Ahern]. All of them.”
The U.S. women delivered their strongest performance of The World Games — the international competition featuring Sixes lacrosse for the first time. In a thunderstorm-delayed pool play matchup with the Czech Republic, the U.S. dominated from start to finish en route to a 25-6 victory.
Smith, Ahern and Pavinelli each scored four goals in a strong offensive outing that included more than a few transition attempts and draw-to-cage fastbreaks. Ball movement allowed the U.S. to control the tempo of the game, something they hope to do against Great Britain on Friday at 2 p.m. CST in the semifinal round
“We did a really nice job of controlling the ball,” O’Leary said. “Fast breaks, the ball wasn’t on the ground a whole lot, whereas others we’ve seen it more. We cleaned up our stick work.”
The complete effort started with a nine-goal first quarter that ended on Ellie Masera’s buzzer-beater in transition. The U.S. poured in shots and ran the Czech Republic tired through transition attempts, beginning with a Pavinelli breakaway goal just over a minute into the contest.
Masera got to work in the second quarter, face dodging her way through the Czech defense for her third goal and adding an assist in transition to Ahern. Ahern routinely found herself on the end of a lightning-quick U.S. transition, throwing a number of fake combinations to fool Czech goalie Katerina Dvorakova.
She joked before the game about having fresh legs after receiving a red card for a dangerous shot in the second quarter of Wednesday’s game against Japan. The time on the bench allowed her to reassess her own game and make adjustments accordingly.
“We talk a lot about finding our role on this team,” she said. “Yesterday, I had to find a different role — helping them when they were coming off the field. Letting them know what I was seeing from the sidelines. Today, I kept reminding myself to play my game and not get into my head when I took shots. I just wanted to get back out there and wipe that away.”
By halftime, the U.S. had a commanding 15-1 lead, but with a 30-second shot clock, continued to use transition to set up quality opportunities on the net. It was a chance for a young team to find chemistry after two games where the offense went through ups and downs.
With Great Britain scheduled for Friday’s The World Games semifinal, the U.S. got a boost in confidence and looked the part of a team ready to fight for gold.