To showcase some of the top talent in professional women’s lacrosse, Athletes Unlimited has launched a women’s lacrosse league set to begin this summer.
Athletes Unlimited, which runs a network of new sports leagues with innovative ideas in each sport, had already launched a women’s softball league and women’s volleyball league before adding lacrosse. The league will run from July 19 to Aug. 22 at Maureen Hendricks Field in Boyds, Md. It’ll feature 56 of the top women’s lacrosse players in the world.
Thirteen players from the U.S. women’s national team will be participating, including midfielder Taylor Cummings and attacker Kylie Ohlmiller. Cummings was a four-time All-American at Maryland from 2013-2016, leading the Terps to two national championships and three conference titles along the way. She is the only men’s or women’s player to ever win the Tewaaraton Award three times.
“Having the league be in Maryland is great for a multitude of reasons,” Cummings, now the head coach of the McDonogh girls’ lacrosse team. “It’s pretty much the state sport in Maryland. We all grow up with sticks in our hands — most of us, anyway — and to be able to expose the game at a high level to hopefully fans past the stands and continuing to generate excitement, I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”
The league will feature some unique rules that promote a faster-paced style in comparison to a conventional lacrosse game. Quarters will be eight minutes long. Game play will be 9v9. A 60-second shot clock will be implemented. The field will be 90 yards long and 60 yards wide.
Additionally, at the end of each week, the top four performers will serve as captains and redraft their teams. There are four teams with 14 players on each roster, so the four captains will select 13 other players. This is designed to add excitement for the fans watching and the players in the league.
“We’re really excited to be launching lacrosse as our third sport in the network,” Athletes Unlimited co-founder and CEO Jon Patricof said. “Lacrosse is an incredibly fast-growing sport, in particular on the women’s side. It’s a huge opportunity at the pro level and we’re really excited to be adding lacrosse to our network of sports leagues.”
The league’s players were heavily involved in the decision-making process for what the league would look like; they provided input on league rules and where the games would be played. Along with the added exposure for the sport, the idea of a player-driven league was a key factor in drawing the top women’s players.
Ohlmiller was a four-time All American at Stony Brook from 2015-2018, earning America East Offensive Player of the Year honors twice. She is the NCAA Division I record holder for single-season points (164), career points (498) and career assists (246).
She loves the player-driven aspect of the league.
“I think … one of my favorite parts about the league is that everything goes through the players first before a decision is made,” Ohlmiller said. “I think there are so many creative and innovative ideas that come from our community, that come from the players themselves on a day in and day out basis.”
Playing at a quicker pace allows for the players to showcase their elite athleticism and skill for both old and new audiences. It should provide added excitement for the limited number of fans permitted to attend the games in person this summer and those who are watching on TV or via streaming platforms.
“It’s a tough, gritty game, so being able to put that on TVs in homes that might’ve never seen women’s lacrosse before but also [being] able to put it on TVs and in front of families and young girls that already have aspirations to be the best version of themselves as lacrosse players [is important],” Ohlmiller said. “To be able to do that two-fold, I think we’ll be able to do some special things for the future of women’s lacrosse and keep those young girls’ dreams alive.”
Athletes Unlimited and the players are hopeful that the league will bring more attention to the women’s game. Athletes Unlimited is planning to have broadcast partners with both national and international distribution, though specific TV and streaming deals have not been announced yet.
“I love the idea of getting our sport on the biggest platform, exposed to the most people possible and Athletes Unlimited shares that vision,” Cummings said. “That’s something that we’re all very excited for and passionate about in the women’s lacrosse world. Looking forward to playing with the best, against the best, in front of as many people as possible both in person and on TV.”
Beyond their play on the field, the athletes will have the opportunity to continue promoting the game with some of the nation’s most talented youth lacrosse players. Athletes Unlimited will be hosting a three-day National Futures Summit during the second week of the season from July 26-28.
At this event, more than 600 elite high school and middle school female lacrosse players from around the nation will have the opportunity to learn from the world’s best players. The players can also serve as sources of inspiration for young women who may have professional lacrosse aspirations in the future.
“I think it’s important for these young women to have role models in front of them, physically in front of them at these camps,” Ohlmiller said. “I think that’s something that we’re continuously hoping for year-round in our sport and for the young women of the game.”
Some of the other marquee local players in the league include defender Meg Douty, attacker Taylor Hensh and defender Kathy Rudkin, all of whom played at Maryland. Douty (2014 and 2015) and Hensh (2015 and 2017) won two national titles with the Terps, while Rudkin won one title (2018).
Former Loyola stars Taylor and Taryn VanThof, Katrina Geiger and Molly Wolf will be participating in the league as well. Taylor VanThof was a two-time All-American and the 2019 Patriot League Midfielder of the Year. Taryn VanThof was a two-time All-American as a midfielder (2013 and 2015). Geiger was a two-time All-Patriot League midfielder (2017 and 2018). Wolf was a first-team All-Patriot League goalkeeper in 2016.
Three-time first-team All-CAA defender Tianna Wallpher will be representing Towson. She began her career at UMBC in 2015 before moving on to play for the Tigers (2016-2018).
Photo Credits: Scott McCall/US Lacrosse