NTDP Combine: Madison Rassas Dreams of Following in Father's U.S. Team Footsteps

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Madison Rassas was one of 150 girls invited to USA Lacrosse Headquarters this week to compete in the NTDP Girls' Combine.


SPARKS, Md. — Madison Rassas has worn the same headband in every lacrosse game she’s ever played.

The midfielder in the class of 2024 has been around the sport her entire life. It wasn’t until second grade that she picked up a stick, in large part because of her father, Todd — a two-time defenseman on the U.S. men’s national team who captained the squad in 2002.

When Madison Rassas was first learning the fundamentals of the game, her father gifted her a red, white and blue headband. Playing for the U.S. national team has always been her dream.

“My dad has been helping me all the way,” she said Wednesday. “He gave me this headband, and I’ve worn it every single game. If this is the opportunity I can play for my country, that would be amazing.”

In the blistering heat at USA Lacrosse Headquarters, Rassas was among 150 girls competing in the National Team Development Program (NTDP) Girls’ Combine. The program, which began in 2019 and was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, doubled in size in its second iteration.

USA Lacrosse held national tryouts for over 1,000 girls for its USA Select U16 and U18 teams. The combine, which began Tuesday and ends Thursday, provides an opportunity for the top 150 high school players in the country to be evaluated by high level coaches to potentially earn a spot on the Select teams.

Players are evaluated on the same field at USA Lacrosse Headquarters that hosted a training camp for the U.S. women’s senior team just two months ago.

“Being in the locker room seeing everything and seeing all the players up on the wall, it’s so cool,” said Rassas, who said a few of her favorite players include Sam Apuzzo, Dempsey Arsenault and Taylor Cummings.

For Rassas, it’s the next step in her journey to follow in her father’s footsteps. Todd Rassas was a three-time All-American at Notre Dame and played for the U.S. national team in 2002 and 2006. As captain in 2002, he led the team to a gold medal. He also spent time with the Chicago Machine in the MLL.

Now, he serves as a United States Secret Service agent.

Ever since his daughter’s lacrosse journey began, Todd Rassas has done his best to inspire her by regaling her with stories from his lacrosse-playing past.

“He was at a tryout for the U.S. team, and he said he got totally ran over and had to pick himself up in front of 40 coaches and keep going,” Madison Rassas said. “He was like, ‘I had to pick myself up and come out and go even harder.’ He always tells me about that.”







COLORADO COMMITMENT

Betty Nelson has made the long trek east several times this summer for recruiting tournaments.

The Columbine High School junior who hails from Littleton, Colo., has made the 29-hour trip from her hometown to Maryland via car — a trip that requires three overnight stops and likely several breaks along the way.

She flew into Maryland this time, saving her energy for the NTDP Combine. The goalkeeper who is just weeks away from September 1 recruiting calls was a participant in the first NTDP Combine in 2019 and couldn’t believe how the program has already grown.

“It’s skyrocketing,” she said. “[2019] was the first year doing it and it wasn’t very well known, but I think it blew up. Now you’re seeing an insane amount of talent on the field.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nelson had to get creative to bridge the gap between her standout showing in 2019 and her second NTDP chance in 2021.

Once quarantine began, Nelson said she’d wake up at 5 a.m. to play wall ball before going for a run. She’d take a nap and continue her efforts to improve.

At the onset, she didn’t have anyone to practice with. That meant throwing the ball hard enough off the wall for her to then pretend it was a shot she needed to save. When she was finally able to get some friends together and see shots, the difference was drastic.

Nelson of course wants to play in college, and she does have future aspirations in lacrosse beyond the NCAA level. But right now, all the 16-year-old cares about is growth.

“I just want to continue growing,” she said. “Personally, I’ve seen growth in my game, and I want to continue to do that and become the best player and teammate I can be.

“Summer recruiting tournaments are just insane. There’s a lot of pressure, but I think toward the end of the summer I learned that it’s just so important to have fun and enjoy the game. We all play because we love it, not because of college coaches.”

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