PHOTO BY KAIT DEVIR / ATHLETES UNLIMITED

Playing for Keeps: How Taylor Moreno Won AU as a Rookie


It took 19 years for a goalie to win the Tewaaraton Award. Maryland’s Megan Taylor won in 2019 and remains the only netminder — male or female — to win college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy.

It took two seasons of Athletes Unlimited for a goalie to win the individual championship.

Taylor Moreno, a 2021 Tewaaraton Award finalist, edged midfielder Sam Apuzzo, the 2019 Tewaaraton winner, 1,798-1,782, in a race so close it took an extra day to call.

Moreno was one of four goalies to finish in the top 10 on the leaderboard, tying midfield for the most by position. Britt Read (1,394) finished fourth, Caylee Waters (1,385) fifth and Kady Glynn (1,298) 10th. Waters and Glynn finished second and fourth, respectively, in the first season, which Taylor Cummings won.

“Everyone sees the goals getting scored, so they think it’s a shooter who should be winning the whole thing,” Moreno said. “It’s unique to have the environment AU has created in terms of giving everyone a chance to get a lot of points and get themselves up high. It shows there is a defensive aspect to lacrosse, and it’s crucial.”


“It shows there is a defensive aspect to lacrosse, and it’s crucial.”

— Taylor Moreno


The points system Moreno is referring to is, in fact, unique to Athletes Unlimited. Teams rotate each weekend, and an individual is crowned champion at the end of the four-week season. The system rewards team and individual play and penalizes mistakes. For example, saves earn a goalie six points. The shooter loses two points.

Team play also factors in heavily.  AU gives 20 points to all players on the team that scored the most goals in a quarter. Everyone on the game-winning team nets 45 points. After each game, players vote for three MVPs who receive 45, 30 or 15 points.

If it sounds like a lot of math — it is. AU displayed the leaderboard on video screens at the USA Lacrosse headquarters, the host site of the season. Moreno admits she noticed it during the final game when she was neck-and-neck with Apuzzo. But realistically, there’s not much time to crunch numbers. The fast-paced games are 10v10 and played on a shorter field of 90x60 yards.

“The college game is fast, but this game is so quick and so back-and-forth that you are starting to see a lot of shots,” Moreno said. “It is crazy just to see how good all the goalies are and the caliber and frequency of the shots you are getting.”

But Moreno was up for the challenge, and she banked point after point. The rookie netminder out of North Carolina stopped more than half of the shots she faced, led the league with a .560 save percentage and recorded double-digit saves in 10 of 12 games. Moreno turned in two 14-save performances, a single-game record.








“People are putting goalies in a spot where you have to make saves,” Moreno said. “The more saves you make, the more points you get, and it takes points away from the shooter. When you are making double-digit saves, you are racking up high stat points.”

And those stat points contributed to more individual accolades and team wins. Moreno’s play earned her four MVP selections, including two as the top player of the game, and her teams went 7-5.

Stop shots, win games, win the whole thing. The winning formula isn’t rocket science. But sometimes, taking shots from some of the world’s best shooters in a format that favored a fast-paced style of play felt like it.

Moreno didn’t have to look far for advice and support. Read, Waters and Glynn were quick to share what they learned in 2021, for example, with no shooting space or three-second rules.




PHOTO BY KAIT DEVIR / ATHLETES UNLIMITED


Rookie netminder Paulina DiFatta only played in two games and finished 56th on the leaderboard. But she has also been inspired by the play of Waters, Read and Glynn and likes that the AU format elevates goalies. “I even saw Caylee Waters take shots,” she said. “You don’t get to do that as a goalie in college really.”

Waters and Read were coming off appearances in the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship. Waters, another North Carolina product, won gold with Team USA as the backup for Liz Hogan. Read’s All-World performance helped England take bronze in a triple-OT thriller against Australia.

Moreno watched the championship from home as the last goalie cut from the U.S. team.

“It was hard watching it on the TV sitting on my couch, but I was grateful to be immersed in the experience on the training team,” Moreno said.

The month-and-a-half layoff between winning a national championship in her final season at North Carolina and making her professional debut gave Moreno a chance to watch and learn. She kept an eye on Waters and Read during the world championship.

“Britt plays really hot. Caylee is really active," Moreno said. "That’s what’s awesome about goalies is that you can play differently but still be successful.”

It gave Moreno the confidence to play her own brand of lacrosse — athletic and active — in AU. Being cut stung, but she had turned the page by the time she arrived on campus. She was happy for the players who won gold and ready to show why no one should forget about her any time soon.

“The opportunity to play more lacrosse is something I will never take for granted,” Moreno said. “I wasn’t necessarily playing with a chip on my shoulder, but I played to prove I’ve still got it and want to be around the sport for as long as possible.”


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