A Unifying Effort Creates Opportunity from Nation United


Madison Beale is all smiles during the Nation United Summit at USA Lacrosse headquarters over the weekend.

Trailing by a goal late in the game, the Nation United 2023 girls’ lacrosse team forced a turnover and raced up the field. After a shot went wide, mere seconds remained. After a couple of quick passes, Kirra Crowley cut down the lane in front of the goal and scored to give Nation United a 9-9 tie against a Big 4 HHH club team from Pennsylvania.

Those are the moments that make it all worthwhile for Artie West, who along with Jenny Collins-Vela organized the three-day Nation United Summit that brought 79 girls, of all races and backgrounds, from 17 states to USA Lacrosse headquarters. The details of coordinating such an event can be overwhelming.

“I’m always like, ‘Why do I this to myself,’” West said. “And then today, 23 game, less than four seconds left. Tears, chills, tears.”

West, a player on three NCAA tournament teams at Towson, is now helping to create opportunities for more girls of color to play at the next level through the work of Nation United, where she is the girls’ director and a coach. This is the third time the summit has been held and was by far the largest.

After Friday evening activities at a hotel, the three Nation United teams held practice sessions on Tierney Field before playing a total of nine games from Sept. 18-19, facing competition from two highly-respected club teams in the region — Hero’s Lacrosse Club (Md.) and Big HHH (Pa.).

“We just had to figure out how we could get these girls together and to see if the level of play was there enough to put them in competition,” West said. “We knew the mission of this was always sisterhood."

Diversity is key to the Nation United effort.

“When we do this event, we want diversity to shine all the way through in everything we do,” West said. “You’ll notice we had African-American refs. We want them to know, this game at every level has diversity and representation. We have refs, coaches. That’s a big thing. These girls will say, ‘I’ve never been coached by a woman of color. What does that feel like?'”

“This was honestly so amazing, it was even better than last year,” said Kendall Dean, a senior at Atholton (Md.) High School. “It’s so great to play on the field with so many people that look like me and have these diverse experiences.”

But a quick scan of the players will show it’s not just people of color represented. 

“We’re also very big on allyship,” West said. “Everybody doesn’t have to be of color. If you’re here, that means you promote what we’re doing. You’re being understanding. You’re lending an ear. You’re learning. For those girls to kind of be the minority in this situation and still thrive and feel the love that we’re putting out.”

Autumn Rhoads, a senior from Hempfield (Pa.) High School, was one such player who was playing in her first event with Nation United.

“It was just amazing learning and playing with girls who I would never have gotten the opportunity to play with,” Rhoads said. “There’s also diversity with regions. My roommate was from Tennessee. My friends, my teammates they’re from California, Minnesota — I’m from Amish Country. It was really, really fun to play with girls who are like me and don’t come from lacrosse hotbeds and then with it to have a Black woman coach, it was just the best experience ever.”

Colleen Magarity, a former U.S. U19 gold medalist and a three-time national champion at Northwestern, brought her Big 4 HHH program to the event for the second straight year.

“I think it’s such a cool event for our girls to be a part of — beautiful facility, great turf, great atmosphere and great competition,” Magarity said. “I think it’s just one for them to get perspective and see how much the game is growing, to see this type of team and what they stand for, what they’re doing. I hope some of my girls will also apply to be a part of this Nation United team. They’re so talented, it was fun to watch them.”

Nation United relies on an application process to find the best of the best and players that can truly be ambassadors.

“We want to have real representation of diversity in lacrosse, on and off the field,” West said. “Different ethnicities, different socio-economic backgrounds, all of that. We want to have a well-rounded program. It’s important for these girls to meet other girls that are not like them. The uniqueness is when they come together, they don’t miss a beat. They’re like sisters before and after and they just love each other so much and make us love them.”

One of the coaches for this year’s summit was Kayla Wood, who was a starter on North Carolina’s powerhouse team and then starred with the sport’s best players in Athletes Unlimited this summer. She’s a living proof example for players to emulate.

Of the 12,913 women that played NCAA lacrosse in 2020, just 3.4 percent identified as Black, a small increase from the 2.8 percent total from 2012, the oldest published data from the NCAA. West hopes that Nation United can help create more opportunities for players at the next level. 

“That’s why this event is so helpful to the college coaches,” West said. “No offense to them, but they always say, ‘We can’t find black players.’ Well, we’ve got 67 of them for you. We’re all on the same field. Come holler at us. That’s what we’re trying to do. The game is getting diverse and we’re going to help make this easier for you.”

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