Although Taylor Cummings has never played in a women's lacrosse World Cup before, she's felt ready for this week's championship in England for a while.
Maryland's three-time Tewaaraton Award winner joined the national team just after the 2013 World Cup and went on last summer's five-game tuneup tour at Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, England, where the 2017 Federation of International Lacrosse Women's World Cup will begin with opening ceremonies July 12.
"It's been a grueling 3 1/2 years. We've all essentially been trying out for 3 1/2 years," Cummings said, "so to finally be on the team and be ready to go to the World Cup, it's a huge honor, it's so exciting and there's just a little bit of relief that you're on the team and now it's just a matter of getting it done."
Cummings, a two-time Baltimore Sun Athlete of the Year at McDonogh, is one of seven Team USA players from Baltimore-area high schools along with two-time Terps Tewaaraton winner Katie Schwarzmann (Century), Kelly Rabil (Hammond), Ally Carey (John Carroll), Kristen Carr (Mercy), Brooke Griffin (South River) and Alice Mercer (Century). She's also one of six former Terps, including Schwarzmann, Griffin, Mercer, Alex Aust and Megan Douty.
Schwarzmann, Rabil, Carey and Carr return from the gold-medal winning 2013 team while Cummings, Griffin and Mercer are among 11 World Cup rookies.
Ricky Fried, the Georgetown coach in his second stint as Team USA head coach, said whittling the team to 18 in January was more difficult than ever because of the wealth of talent.
He focused on versatile team players and even with a 12-year gap between the oldest and the youngest, this group meshed well from two third-time World Cup veterans Devon Wills and Sarah Bullard, to newcomers such as Cummings and Kayla Treanor, a Tewaaraton finalist from Syracuse each year that Cummings won. Two players are still in college, North Carolina's Marie McCool and USC's Gussie Johns.
"You don't get to this point unless you do, but they've all bought into the team concept, that 'the team is bigger than me,' " Fried said. "We have 18 all-star players that are also 18 glue players at any given time. That's the beauty of this team to me. It's not about who's going to be the all-stars, who's going to be the glue players. They're all going to have those moments in both areas."
Most of the players come from college programs that stress the same concept. Griffin, who plays on an all-new attack blending Maryland and Syracuse graduates, is used to finishing and feeding. She said the attackers on this team would rather assist than score.
"This is a special group here and we just want to play together. We're good teammates and for a lot of people it's hard to fit into our system and into our mold, but I think the roster that we have here, everyone can do everything. Everyone is just selfless and that's what I kind of love about this team," said Griffin, who at 13 carried a small American flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2005 World Cup in Annapolis.
Carr said the chemistry seems to be developing on the field although the players haven't been together except for a few weekends this year. She expects it to emerge quickly during the weeklong training camp in England that began July 5.
"You hope as a more experienced player that the younger ones do feel valued and that they fit in and that they're just as big a part of the team as everyone else. That's been one of the big goals of the coaching staff from an off-the-field standpoint and I really do think we've tried to develop good relationships, which enhances performance on the field," Carr said.
Mercer said the players try to stay close through a group chat and that veterans have helped the younger ones with everything from game strategy to what to pack.
The experienced players know just how much a win over Team USA would mean for any of the other 24 nations competing, especially their top competition — England, Canada and Australia.
In 2013, the United States dominated the World Cup as no team had before. Going 7-0, it won by an average of 13.3 goals and scored an average of 18.1. No team came closer than nine goals. The 19-5 title game victory over host Canada was twice the previous record for winning margin in a championship game.
In World Cup play dating to the first tournament in 1982, the United States has won seven of nine gold medals and amassed a 52-6-1 record. The only nation to beat or tie Team USA has been Australia, which won gold over the Americans in 2005 and 1986.
That 2005 title-game loss to Australia was the last World Cup loss for the United States, which has a distinct advantage in talent over the rest of the world especially in recent years as the Division I college game has spread around the country. No other country has such a widespread training ground for its players. Former Terps Jen Adams and Sarah Forbes led Australia to the 2005 title along with several others who played at such colleges as Maryland, Loyola and Northwestern.
This year, Fried isn't overlooking Canada, which took the gold medal at the Under-19 world championships two years ago, but England has caught his attention. Not only are the English aiming to become the first team to win the World Cup on their home soil, but they've also added two of the best college attackers from this spring, Maryland's Megan Whittle and Princeton graduate Olivia Hompe, to their roster.
"I think the English have an excellent team. They're super athletic and from what we've seen, they'be become more tactical. … I don't want to take anything away from Canada because they were in the gold-medal game last time, but I think England's going to be a real big competitor and someone to keep your eye on because they're going to have something to prove playing at home," said the Columbia resident and former UMBC All-America midfielder whose coaching staff includes another former Terp, Jess Wilk.
To Schwarzmann, one of the reasons the United States has been so successful in the World Cup has been never letting its guard down. That includes between official training sessions when players fit in workouts around their busy work schedules.
At 32, Rabil is the oldest player from the Baltimore area, but she might work harder than anyone else with a job as a fitness instructor giving spin classes several times a day.
Carey said everyone on the team is driven to keep the bar high.
"The '13 team went to play the best lacrosse that's ever been played. … Of course you want gold, but we wanted to raise the bar as far as our team play and, in my opinion, I think we accomplished that for the most part," Carey said.
"Now, all these younger girls come in like Taylor and [Michelle] Tumolo and bring such a different element to the game that gives it such a different feel. There's a little more swagger. There are different tricks that are not my strong suit, but it's so pretty to watch this team play because they're very fluid — big sticks and great moves — and I think there's kind of an orchestra type of feel to it, so I'm excited to see how it all pans out."
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