After helping the United States win the women’s lacrosse World Cup four years ago, Kelly Rabil certainly wanted to come back and defend the title this summer. She just couldn’t think of it as a four-year commitment.
Her World Cup goal had been derailed twice by injury and, in 2009, by missing the final cut, so she knew it could be a long, uncertain journey.
“If you look at it as four years ahead of you, that’s a really difficult task for anyone, no matter where you are or what point in life you are, but especially as an adult, because life happens. I just tried to tell myself, ‘Pray for your health, pray that you’re going to be capable of doing it, but don’t necessarily assume you’ll be able to do it. Take it one day at a time,’ ” said Rabil, 32.
Having taken the 1,455 days between World Cups as they came, Rabil is healthy, capable and ready to do anything she can to help Team USA win its third straight championship at the Federation of International Lacrosse Rathbones Women’s World Cup in Guildford, England, where the Americans begin play against Scotland on July 13.
Since 2013, the Hammond graduate has continued to train with the national team, but only about a year ago did she decide that she was all in for her second World Cup.
“Coming off tryouts for [the national team], I was able to feel like a leader to some of the younger players, and whether it worked out that I went on to England to play in the final 18 or not, I felt like I could have an impact on the team that was going to be created. I think that’s where it kind of clicked.”
As a midfielder, Rabil is constantly on the run and although she makes it look easy, she knows how difficult it is to remain injury-free and keep a step ahead of the younger players challenging for her spot.
The former Kelly Berger first made the U.S. national team in 2006 after an All-America junior year at James Madison when she was the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year. That fall, she tore the ACL in her left knee. The following fall, she tore the ACL in her right knee.
Those setbacks, along with missing the final cut in 2009, made Rabil realize she didn’t have complete control over what might happen, so she began thinking of her journey in single-day increments.
“The desire definitely hadn’t left … but my confidence was pretty low,” she said. “Of course I wanted it, but I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to get myself there.”
Most of her teammates would probably say that if anyone could do it, Rabil could. A fitness instructor giving several classes a day in spin and barre, the Canton resident works out throughout the day. She also works an hour to 90 minutes most days with Jay Dyer, the conditioning trainer for US Lacrosse.
“I felt fit and healthy,” Rabil said, “and it’s a funny feeling to feel that way when you’re the older one on the field, but I think experience carries you through a lot of the time to understand what you should feel like and how you should take care of your body. You mature in the sense of like, this is my prime. Although I’m older, my body’s in its prime right now and it feels ready to go.”
As one of the two oldest Team USA players, along with goalie Devon Wills, Rabil brings invaluable experience to a team with 11 World Cup newcomers, especially with her leadership and her understanding of how the team runs on and off the field, said coach Ricky Fried, who led the 2013 team to a second straight gold medal.
“To have the passion that she still has, I think has a huge impact on younger players. She’s not that old, but that can’t be measured in certain ways. I think that’s one of those pieces that goes unnoticed by others. It’s easy to look at Kelly and say, ‘Wow, she clearly works hard at fitness and keeps herself in shape,’ but those other pieces of what kind of teammate to be, how to deal with younger players and bring them into the fold is something that she’s done extremely well,” said Fried, the Georgetown women’s coach and a former All-America midfielder at UMBC.
Rabil is somewhat of a fitness fiend. Ally Carey, her teammate and workout partner, said Rabil doesn’t make it easy for her teammates to keep up.
“She really amazes me because of the relentless effort day in and day out,” said Carey, a 2013 World Cup veteran who played at John Carroll. “Her day, it just sounds exhausting. I don’t even know how you do this day in and day out. What’s really cool is she’s like a girlie girl, but she’s fierce. She’s going to outwork you even if it kills her.”
That’s what enables Rabil to run full field all-out as long as her midfield line is in the game. She’s a key to an extremely high-pressure midfield defense and to winning draws, but she also scored four goals in a Memorial Day weekend scrimmage victory over Canada, the 2013 World Cup silver medalist.
“My role is kind of sweet,” Rabil said. “I run a lot. I listen to my defense when they tell me what to do and I pass the ball to my offense and let them score. I remind myself before every game, ‘Do the work between the 30s and let everything else come.’ I don’t mind doing that. … I’m willing to do whatever my teammates need me to do that day.”
As part of one of the royal couples of lacrosse, with husband, Paul Rabil, a former Johns Hopkins star now aiming for his third World Cup next summer, Kelly Rabil derives motivation from her husband’s success, but said they’re not competitive with each other. Having a spouse who understands the commitment to being one of the top lacrosse players in the world and is encouraging, she said, helps a lot.
When she returns from England, Rabil plans to take a vacation. She hopes to be celebrating a gold medal to mark the end of her international playing career. Having coached at UMBC and at River Hill, she said she might get back into coaching on the high school level. She’ll surely stay in shape, continuing to work as a fitness instructor, but she won’t have to keep up the same training grind.
“It’s not a question of if I have the ability to go more, but I think it’s time for me to say, ‘You’ve given everything that you have,’ and another four years, that age number is a little scary. I’d like to have a family and have life a little bit from a different side of things,” she said.
Having experienced the disappointment of not making the team and the thrill of winning a gold medal, Rabil is happy to be retiring from international competition on her own terms.
“I think it takes a lot for any person to push through and say, ‘I’m going to go until some one says I can’t,’ vs. ‘I’m going to go until I make that decision,’ but it’s a pretty sweet story if I’m able to come out on top and hang up my cleats in that way.”
Federation of International Lacrosse Rathbones Women’s Lacrosse World Cup
Where: Surrey Sports Park, Guildford, England
When: July 12-22
Two-time defending champion: United States
Team USA coach: Ricky Fried, second World Cup
Local U.S. players: Ally Carey (Vanderbilt, John Carroll), Kristen Carr (North Carolina, Mercy), Taylor Cummings (Maryland, McDonogh), Brooke Griffin (Maryland, South River), Alice Mercer (Maryland, Century), Kelly Rabil (James Madison, Hammond), Katie Schwarzmann (Maryland, Century)
Past gold medals: United States, seven; Australia, two
Live stream: 247.tv/live/lacrosse/rathbones-lacrosse-world-cup-2017, about $65 for the tournament; about $5.20 for one match