Hosting World Cup Gave England Cause to Revamp Program


England's Laura Merrifield (left) and Megan Whittle share a laugh during an exhibition against the U.S. at US Lacrosse on Oct. 8, 2016.

Megan Whittle has been counting down the days until the England national team hosts the FIL Women’s World Cup July 13-22.

“I’m excited for the World Cup and excited to be in England with all my friends and go out and play lacrosse,” Whittle said. “It makes me so happy and brings me so much joy. Being on the same team as all the girls I’ve met over the past year and to represent England and wear ‘England’ on my chest is something I’m really excited to be a part of.

“We’re confident. We’re really enthusiastic. We’re motivated. We’re inspired. We’re happy to host and bring some more exposure to the country of England.”

Whittle is hardly alone in her excitement. England is a team on the rise. They were fourth in 2013, but in 2015 their U19 team climbed to bronze and there is a hope that they can return to the gold-medal game as they did in 1989 and 1993.

“Since the last World Cup, English Lacrosse has introduced some fundamental changes to the structure of the sport, strengthening the talent development pathway and improving the coach education system,” said Phil Collier, their first male head coach. “The hosting of the women’s World Cup has given added impetus to these changes, and has coincided with a change in culture of the England team.”

England also added an assistant coach from the U.S., former North Carolina player Katelyn Hoffman, and welcomed a mix of experience. They have fostered strong chemistry in training, and played a tougher exhibition schedule.

“I think we be a really dangerous team,” Whittle said. “I’m really confident in my teammates and confident in our coaching staff and everyone working with our program. It’s a really exciting time for England.”

The Maryland junior attacker joined the England team in 2016, played in almost a dozen exhibition games with it, made good friends and converted all of them to Terps fans. After Maryland was NCAA runner-up in 2016, she left the next day to join England in Australia for a best-of-three friendlies series that England won. She was thrilled to host when they played in the Team USA Fall Classic. England lost to Australia by a goal, led the U.S. at halftime and beat Canada by a goal.

“Our performance at the Fall Classic has given us the confidence that we can compete successfully with each of the top three teams from the 2013 World Cup,” Collier said.

Joining England in Baltimore was Olivia Hompe, the Tewaaraton Award finalist from Princeton. Hompe didn’t know much about Team England except that Whittle was on it, but was thrilled to find a team with athleticism, especially on the defensive end.

“What was the biggest surprise was the depth of the team,” Hompe said. “I kind of thought maybe they’d have one or two good players and then there’d be a drop off. But the team is really deep. The 18 that the coaches have picked, it’s a very deep squad and that will benefit us in terms of the amount of games we have to play in such a short amount of time.”

Together, Hompe and Whittle will bolster the attack and feed optimism that England will return to a gold-medal game.

“We are also aware of the tremendous opportunity we have to be part of something bigger than ourselves,” Collier said. “Through our performances we can give a boost to the grass roots game in England and inspire the next generation of England players.”

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