U.S. Women Have a Celebrated History of International Play

The 1969 U.S. Touring Team embarked on a two-month globetrotting trip that traveled over 30,000 miles.

In 1982 in Nottingham, England, the United States proudly captured the gold medal at the first official women’s world championship event, sponsored by the International Federation of Women’s Lacrosse Associations (IFWLA). Since that first title, no other country has come close to the international success of the Americans, who have won eight of the 10 World Cup competitions.

But unbeknownst to many, the United States women also had a notable history of international competition long before that first world championship in 1982.

Under the sponsorship of the United States Women’s Lacrosse Association (USWLA), one of the precursors to USA Lacrosse, the first U.S. squad travelled abroad in 1935, competing against established club teams during a tour in England.

That practice of international competition continued for the next several decades with additional U.S. teams travelling overseas for exhibition tours, or hosting visiting teams from primarily England or Great Britain.

“What is representing one’s country all about? It is an honor and a responsibility,” said 1975 U.S. Touring Team coach Kathy Heinze during a 2018 interview with USA Lacrosse. “A player is chosen because she is considered to be the best — this is the honor. A player, having been chosen, then makes every effort to be the best — this is the responsibility. Pride is one of the driving forces; individual pride, team pride and pride in one’s country.”

Oftentimes, the purpose of the U.S. touring teams went beyond just competition and cultural exchange. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the talented American players became lacrosse ambassadors seeking to support the growth of the game worldwide.

The 1969 U.S. Touring Team embarked on a two-month globetrotting trip that traveled over 30,000 miles, with stops in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Amsterdam and London. In a unique blend of competition and collaboration during that trip, the U.S. team toured with players from England, and in some places, the American and English players combined on one team to play against a local host team. In other places, the U.S. played against England in an exhibition game. The players also hosted clinics for local players and officials.

In recognition, the 1969 U.S. Touring Team was honored by USA Lacrosse in 2016 with its Team of Distinction award.

“We selected the 1969 Touring Team in recognition of all that this team did to promote the game of women’s lacrosse internationally,” said Chris Sailer, the Hall of Fame women’s coach at Princeton University and a member of the USA Lacrosse committee that chose that 1969 squad for the award. “Together with the Brits, they did more in their eight-week tour to grow the game internationally than anything that had been done before, or arguably, since.”

International women’s lacrosse history was made in 1973 when the Americans, playing on U.S. soil, defeated visiting Great Britain for the first time. Two years later, the 1975 U.S. team continued the momentum with another memorable tour, finishing with a perfect 13-0 record and beating both England and Great Britain on their own soil, a landmark achievement at the time.

“We had an amazing group of women who were just dedicated and focused,” said Leigh Buck Friedman, the leading scorer for the 1975 U.S. team and a 2018 inductee to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. “We all just jelled amazingly well. We were a unified group. I think what made our group special was that we all knew our place on the team, and everybody did all that they could to fill their role.”

While finishing undefeated during its six-week, 13-game tour of England and Great Britain in 1975, the Americans outscored their opponents by a cumulative score of 187-27 and posted four shutouts among the 13 victories. Perhaps as a nod to the growing intensity of the international competitions, the 1975 team was also the first to be led by a head coach.

“By far and away, we were the most skilled U.S. team the U.S. has ever put on the field,” said Heinze, one of eight members from that 1975 team to have been inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Knowing that their efforts helped to spur the continued evolution of women’s lacrosse, both domestically and internationally, has strong meaning for many of the players. Mary Ann Smeltz, another member of the historic 1975 squad, explained that sentiment in a 2015 media interview during the team’s 40th anniversary celebration.

“When you love a sport so much, you want to share that and develop other players,” Smeltz said. “That’s the best legacy any human being can ask for.”

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