Changing of the Guard: Mastroianni, Apuzzo Step Up in Gold Medal Win

PHOTO BY NICK IERADI

U.S. team midfielder Ally Mastrioanni exchanges high-fives with fans on her way into Unitas Stadium.


TOWSON, Md. — Ally Mastroianni lined up opposite Kaylin Morissette. She peered over her right shoulder and saw Marie McCool. Then she looked ahead and saw Taylor Cummings.

She was in good hands.

“Those are exactly the two people I watched growing up,” Mastroianni said.

Now the next generation gets to watch Mastroianni. Or should we say Maestroianni?

The former North Carolina standout conducted the draw masterfully Saturday, emerging as an unexpected X-factor for the United States in its run to its fourth straight world championship.

Mastroianni outdueled Canada’s Kaylin Morissette, a World Team selection, with a game-high seven draw controls in Team USA’s 11-8 victory in the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship gold medal match. She corralled seven herself and otherwise placed the ball perfectly on the circle for a cadre of speedy midfielders to gobble up possessions.

“Anyone on this team I would want to have my back on the circle,” said Mastroianni, who finished with a U.S. record 38 draw controls in the tournament. “I knew every single draw, they would do their job boxing out for going for the ball and they crushed it today.”

The pandemic dealt this U.S. team a fair share of its adversity, but it also delivered a gift in Mastroianni. Had the world championship occurred in 2021 as originally scheduled, Mastroianni, who only latched onto the team during tryouts last summer, likely would not have participated. (It was also Charlotte North’s first U.S. team experience.)

“I was late to the party, but I’m just grateful to be here,” Mastroianni said. “I just take every day with gratitude. A year ago, two years ago, I didn’t know or think I’d be in these shoes. I’ve always dreamed of it so it’s very cool to be here.”

The U.S. became the first country to win a women’s world championship on home soil. It has now won nine of 11 championships contested, its only silver-medal finishes coming at the hands of Australia when the games were held here in 1986 (Swarthmore, Pa.) and 2005 (Annapolis, Md.).

“The very first thing our staff told them when we got together: No one’s ever won at home,” said U.S. coach Jenny Levy, who took over the program in the fall of 2017. “That’s something we talked about very openly.”







Levy also talks very openly about leaving a legacy and inspiring a new wave of women’s lacrosse players and fans. It became a common sight after U.S. games to see hundreds of young girls pushing up against the steel barricades at Unitas Stadium in search of autographs.

So many stars. Not enough Sharpies.

This U.S. team included six players who were with the team when it won the world championship in England and 2017 and five who subsequently represented the country in the first-ever lacrosse competition in The World Games in Poland. They were the pioneers of a movement. Four of them — Cummings, McCool, Alice Mercer and Kayla Treanor — made the World Team this go around. Cummings was named MVP.

Now it’s time to pass the torch. Treanor, who became Team USA’s all-time leading scorer, said afterward this was likely her last ride. Her U.S. career goes all the way back to the 2011 under-19 team.

“I think so,” said Treanor, the 28-year-old attacker who led the unbeaten U.S. with 34 points (20 goals, 14 assists) in eight games and set national team career marks for goals (44) and points (77). “Trying to enjoy it.”

Cummings, 28, also sounded nostalgic in an Instagram post recalling when she and Treanor —college rivals at Maryland and Syracuse, respectively — first suited up for the U.S. at Unitas Stadium (“Johnny U”) in a 2013 exhibition.

Saturday’s historic win felt like a passing of the guard. Cummings and McCool delivered the essential scoring that staked the U.S. to an early lead, but in the end, Mastroianni and Player of the Match Sam Apuzzo played the biggest roles in sealing the victory.

Mastroianni took every draw after the midpoint of the second quarter. The U.S. won possession on 14 of 18 draws with her under center.

Apuzzo took advantage of the tilted field and the defensive attention on attack mates Treanor and North. She turned the corner off a restart to score 69 seconds into the third quarter. Then she fed McCool for an assist on her spinning finish and converted a free position from the center hash to stake the U.S. to a 9-5 lead.

And after the U.S. came up empty on its first four possessions of the fourth quarter, it was Apuzzo who delivered the dagger with a sneak attack from behind the goal to make it 11-7 with 3:12 remaining.

“So many people stepped up, like Ally and Sam,” Treanor said. “There are amazing young players on this team that shined today.”

A two-time Tewaaraton Award winner at Boston College who led the U.S. team with 24 goals, North mimicked Treanor’s YouTube highlights when learning the game in Texas. She also credited Cummings, Mercer, Megan Douty and Liz Hogan for setting the tone on a team that coalesced over the last five years and especially the last two weeks.

“Those players, they’re all-time,” North said. “I’ve looked up to them forever. They changed the game.”

With new stars like Apuzzo, Mastroianni and North emerging, however, the game — and the U.S. national team — is in good hands.

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