For most athletes, international playing experience comes well after high school, if it comes at all. Not many return to their high school teams after competing in a world championship.
This spring, however, John Carroll's Ally Carey, Broadneck's Karri Ellen Johnson and Severn's Josie Owen are all back on their high school teams after helping the United States win its third straight International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations' Under-19 World Championship last August in Ontario, Canada.
Last spring, as high school juniors, all three garnered just about every accolade available -- All-Metro, All-America, All-Tewaaraton -- before joining the nation's other top young players and conquering the world.
Now most of their Under-19 teammates are playing in college, but they have a year to go before Carey heads off to Vanderbilt, Johnson to Maryland, and Owen to Virginia. In the meantime, each returns to a top 10 team. Going back to high school after reaching such a pinnacle can be a challenge.
"It's definitely a tough transition," Carey said. "In high school you play at a completely different level, and at times it can be frustrating because you expect so much after the summer. But coming back, I can teach people different things and now they're like, 'You really know what you're talking about.' "
"In a way it is kind of frustrating," she said, "because you're used to a whole different level of play, but it's also kind of fun, because it's a new year and it's the last time we're going to be playing high school lacrosse. ... I don't want to take it for granted."
Wendy Kridel, U.S. Under-19 team coach for the past three world championships, also coaches Bryn Mawr, and she has watched several of the Mawrtians transition back to high school play.
"There's no question it's much easier for those going to college," Kridel said. "The one piece that is so hard, in my experience, is socially, because they've played at such a high level. They know the game in a different way than the rest of their teammates and now they have to balance wanting to help their teammates with not coming across as a know-it-all."
Severn coach Renie Sotiropolous said she sees Owen walking that line.
"It is hard for Josie, and it is a balance," Sotiropolous said. "I have my ear to the ground for that, but she's been friends with these girls forever, and I think they understand Josie."
All three girls return to similar situations with veteran teams and lots of girls they have played with for a long time. They don't boast, and none has met any resentment or jealousy. Instead, their teammates are eager to learn new things.
Still, Owen said her enthusiasm sometimes gets the better of her, so her teammates and Sotiropolous have to calm her down.
"Renie, she makes fun of me for it," said Owen, with a laugh. "I'll be like, 'We can do this play. It'll work. I swear. It's the best play ever.' But I'm so lucky to come back to a high school team that is awesome, so it's fun to take advantage of all I've learned and try to teach it to them. They are more open to it when they see that it works."
Playing with the best young players in the country against the best young players in the world has not only honed their skills but also boosted their confidence.
Owen said she struggled with that during training camp, calling her mother for moral support.
"I was always insecure and second-guessing myself, but I came to realize I was so lucky to have that opportunity and I learned a lot, " said Owen, who scored eight goals in the U.S.'s 18-4 opening-round win over England. "If I can practice against these amazing teammates and hold my own, and if I can play against Australia and England and can hold my own, I can do fine in high school."
All three girls said they might have tried to add a move or two they learned from one of their Under-19 teammates to their repertoire, but mostly, they sharpened their overall game. They learned about different styles and honed their game sense.
Each is hard-pressed to pinpoint exactly how her game is better, but each knows she has improved just from having the experience.
"The USA, the entire team is so competitive and at such a high level of lacrosse that you're going to get better no matter what," Carey said. "Even if you're not trying new things, everything is fast. The pace is much faster. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be ready for college when I get there."