Photos courtesy Marie McCool
Marie McCool returns to Chapel Hill this month with some extra hardware in tow: the senior midfielder for the Carolina women's lacrosse spent her summer with the U.S. Women's National Team, and, in the span of three and a half weeks, the team won gold medals at the FIL Women's World Cup in England and the World Games in Poland.
"It's been pretty crazy," McCool told Argyle Report by phone from her home in New Jersey. "I was gone for, I think it was 26 days," she said. "We were in England for the first couple of weeks for the World Cup, and then we traveled to Poland afterward to play in the World Games."
Team USA went 8-0 in the first leg of the trip, downing Canada 10-5 in the final. McCool scored two goals in that match. Eight days later, the Americans were champions again, defeating Canada 11-8 in the final of the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. McCool notched a goal and an assist in that victory.
McCool expected to be playing with her Tar Heel team deep into May, but instead joined her USA teammates for an exhibition match in Foxborough, Mass. at the site of the Final Four. "It was a little difficult for me to adjust right away because our Carolina season ended a little shorter than expected, but I got there and I had a lot of fun," she said. "I love playing with the U.S. team, so I was grateful to still be able to play lacrosse that weekend, even though it's not with my Carolina team."
McCool was one of just two current college lacrosse players and the youngest on the team, but she felt welcomed by the veterans on the squad. "The girls do a great job of making me feel comfortable and not making me feel like I'm the youngest on the team," she said.
The system employed by the national team is one of a fast pace with no breaks, no settling on offense and high pressure on defense. The midfielders play at break-neck speed, like ice hockey players coming in for lightning shifts. And McCool loved it, because it was a lot like that used by Jenny Levy at Carolina. "The way our system is at UNC is definitely a little more similar to the U.S. National Team than other teams who like to play a little slower, so that's definitely helped me, and I think Jenny and Phil (Barnes) have done a great job to prepare me for the U.S. National Team. I wouldn't have made the team without them."
The 2017 World Games team was the first in women's lacrosse history, and the event is for non-Olympic sports to showcase themselves on the world stage, perhaps in a bid for future Olympic inclusion. Regardless of whether that happens or not for women's lacrosse, McCool and her teammates are trailblazers. "It's really cool to say that we're kind of the pioneers for women's lacrosse," she said.
And she enjoyed seeing other countries of the world embrace the sport that she loves so dearly. "We had to play Japan, and it's awesome how much they love lacrosse," she said. "They admired us. They loved just to be on the field with us, and they had some really good players. They're scrappy and they have good stick work. It was awesome to meet the players from other countries and see how they looked up to us. I would definitely say the sport is growing outside of North America."
McCool was one of four Tar Heels on the national squad –she joined Kristen Carr, Jenn Russell and Laura Zimmerman– and that speaks to the work being done by Levy and her staff in Chapel Hill. "Even before the final cuts, there were 36 on the team, and seven or eight of them were Tar Heels before we cut it down to 18," McCool said. "It says a lot about Jenny and the program and what she's done to create amazing players and athletes, and we're taking what we learn from Carolina and becoming better players at the collegiate level and bringing that to the U.S. National Team. Obviously, when there's a lot of players from Carolina on the team, Jenny's doing something right."
McCool returns to Chapel Hill set for her senior season in the spring. Twice an All-American, a 2017 Tewaaraton Award finalist, twice a member of the national team, a national champion with two Final Four appearances, she's got one more season to add to an already outstanding legacy. And she can't wait.
"I've been thinking about it since we lost to Navy (in the NCAA quarterfinals)," she said. "That's not how we wanted to end. I'm not thinking about the x's and o's, and how we're going to play; I'm just really excited to get back down there, and what we want most is to have fun. I think that's the most important thing."
Having played a season as the defending national champion, McCool would advise other Tar Heel teams to forget that label for the following season. "Don't take anything for granted," she said. "We never wanted to say that we were the defending national champions. We were, but at the same time, that happened in 2016, and this is 2017. We don't want to forget the amazing memories that we made and how awesome it was, because we want to feel that way again."
McCool would like to lead her Tar Heels back to a national championship, and she wants to wear the red, white and blue in 2021 as well. "I'm going to try my hardest to hopefully play in the next World Cup," she said. "It was an awesome experience, and it's definitely one that I wouldn't mind doing again in the next four years."