Lacrosse: Former WM standouts enjoy new league's inaugural championship

Lacrosse: Former WM standouts enjoy new league's inaugural championship
Amber McKenzie, left, and Katie Hertsch, who played high school lacrosse at Winters Mill, helped the New England Command win the Women's Professional Lacrosse League championship July 14, 2018. (Submitted photo)

The Women’s Professional Lacrosse League finished its inaugural season last weekend, with six former Carroll standouts representing their county.

Katie Hertsch and Amber (Falcone) McKenzie, who played together at Winters Mill High School, got a chance to do it again when they were drafted by the New England Command before the start of this season.


And the former Falcons helped their pro team capture a championship in the end.

The WPLL’s final game took place last Saturday, July 14, at Tierney Field in Sparks, in Baltimore County, site of the US Lacrosse headquarters. The Command met the Baltimore Brave in the final, and New England prevailed 12-11.

Hertsch and McKenzie were joined in the new league this summer by four other Carroll products — Madison Cyr (Winters Mill) and Alice Mercer (Century) played for the New York Fight; Katie (Schwarzmann) Haus (Century) was on the Philadelphia Fire’s roster; and Erin Slifer (South Carroll) played for the Upstate Pride.

That’s 15 Times all-county first-team selections and four Times Player of the Year awards combined competing in a five-team league led by Michele DeJuliis, founder and CEO, who came over from the United Women’s Lacrosse League after serving as commissioner there for one year.

McKenzie, 31, played with DeJuliis on Team USA in the 2009 World Cup, and said she became intrigued in playing again after a few years away when she heard a second professional league was about to begin.

“She does everything the highest level, so when she announced that she was started this league … I kind of felt like … ‘Oh, here’s my chance to play again. I want to be a part of it,’” said McKenzie, who lives in Arkansas with her husband and infant son. “I kind of put my name out there to be in the draft, not knowing whether I was going to get drafted or not. I’m so happy that I played.”

Amber McKenzie, a Winters Mill graduate, played collegiately at University of North Carolina.
Amber McKenzie, a Winters Mill graduate, played collegiately at University of North Carolina. (Courtesy of UNC / Baltimore Sun)

Hertsch, 29, played in the UWLX for two years but said she also came over because of DeJuliis and her vision for the sport. That Hertsch landed on the same team as a friend and former high school teammate made things sweeter, she said.

“It’s really great to have an avenue post-college … where we can play still at a really elite level,” said Hertsch, a 2006 WM graduate. “It was really exciting.”

Hertsch and McKenzie (Class of 2006) played for two years together at Winters Mill before they headed off to college, Hertsch to Hofstra and McKenzie to North Carolina. Both of them stayed sharp and represented the USA on national teams after college, and when the chance came to play in a pro league neither of them passed it up.

“Some of the biggest names in lacrosse, really, are in this league,” McKenzie said. “It’s something that I definitely wanted to be a part of.”

Winters Mill graduate Katie Hertsch played for the US Women’s National Lacrosse team.
Winters Mill graduate Katie Hertsch played for the US Women’s National Lacrosse team. (File Photo)

New England went 3-1 in the regular season, with its lone loss coming June 9 against Baltimore.

The Brave were unbeaten and the top seed in the playoffs, and took care of Cyr’s and Mercer’s New York squad in the semifinals. New England defeated Slifer and the Upstate Pride in the other semifinal, setting up a rematch for the title.

The championship was tied 11-11 in the final minute when Hertsch and McKenzie, both defenders, helped the Command preserve the tie with a back-line stand. Then McKenzie collected a ground ball and started a transition that led to the game-winning goal — Aly Messinger scored with less than 20 seconds remaining.

The Command won the ensuring draw control and held on for a thrilling victory.


“We were so pumped,” Hertsch said. “This whole season we’ve had really close games. All the teams out there have such high-level players. We kind of remembered that [loss to Baltimore] and we were determined to bounce back and learn from that game.”

With practice time at a premium, Hertsch and McKenzie said most of the team chemistry takes place during games. A lot of each unit’s success comes from learning on the go, which McKenzie said made the Command’s late defensive stand all the more impressive.

“It took us a little bit of time to really click, but I think that we clicked at the right time,” McKenzie said. “We really came together and a great bond for the last game. … We were having fun and playing together, and that’s why we won the game.”

McKenzie said she’d like to keep playing in the WPLL if she’s able, so a year-to-year thought process is in the works. Hertsch said it was fun playing with McKenzie again and made the experience more special.

“This has been a really great opportunity to still have a the love of the game and still compete,” Hertsch said. “But also it’s a really cool way to network too and be around really amazing women that are doing really awesome things.”