New Venue, Growing Potential: Athletes Unlimited Debuts Season 2 at USAL

PHOTO COURTESY OF ATHLETES UNLIMITED


SPARKS, Md. — USA Lacrosse headquarters served as a backdrop for an experience unlike any in this sport.

Some of the biggest names in lacrosse, veterans and gold medalists, walked alongside newcomers through the tunnel decked out in black Athletes Unlimited-branded covering and lit with orange and blue neon lights. They took to Tierney Field, lined with two camera towers and two lights (in addition to the four permanent light poles) protruding some 75 feet over the stadium.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Lizzie Colson, who grew up just minutes from USA Lacrosse. “I didn’t know all of this would be out here. It feels pro. It feels legit. It’s different than anything I’ve done on this field.”

After the opening ceremony, which took place as the sun set and crews readied to deliver a performance worthy of ESPN2, it was time for Team Apuzzo and Team Glynn to hit the field. It took only minutes for the best women’s lacrosse players to showcase their skill to a national audience.

Ally Mastroianni ripped her first of three goals from just inside the 2-point line, eliciting a few gasps from the crowd. Over two hours, fans were treated to low-angle blasts, BTB assists and acrobatic saves.

The second season of Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse had begun.

In front of hundreds of fans and plenty more watching on linear television, Team Apuzzo pulled away for a 14-10 victory — one that signified a lot more than just points on a leaderboard. The league, which launched last year in Boyds, Maryland, hopes to build on a successful summer and continue pushing forward the progress of women’s lacrosse.

“I turned to my right and just thought, ‘Whoa. I’m a professional athlete,’” Mastroianni said. “As a kid growing up, this wasn’t a thing yet. You always saw pro basketball and football players, but never lacrosse. It’s great to see this sport grow over the past few years. I got a paycheck. It’s pretty sweet. I’m just playing lacrosse. This is pretty fun.”

Athletes Unlimited ushered in its new season Thursday night, one full of hope that it can build off of season one. Based on a season-long leaderboard, players battle for points earned by individual and team performance. Taylor Cummings took home the inaugural Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse title, edging out Caylee Waters on the final day of the 2021 campaign.

Athletes Unlimited founder and CEO Jon Patricof, who oversees each of the league’s four sports (basketball, lacrosse, softball and volleyball), gathered feedback from last summer and helped lead the vision for changes coming into 2022.

The biggest of all adjustments came when the league announced that ESPN would broadcast every Athletes Unlimited game on its platforms. Games on Thursday night aired on ESPN2, and Saturday’s matchup will go live on ESPNU.







The increased attention around women’s lacrosse and ESPN’s growing interest in the sport helped make the decision a seamless one.

“It’s making the games more accessible,” Patricof said. “Having all the games on the ESPN platforms is going to be great for fans, easier to find. ESPN is becoming a great home for lacrosse at all levels.”

In addition to moving the league’s venue to USA Lacrosse headquarters, Patricof said he’s proud to develop a larger partnership with USA Lacrosse to continue its efforts to grow the game across the country.

“We share the mission of growing the game and bringing the sport to more people,” he said. “It’s exciting to have a partner, and it’s great to be in a place where a lot of the heart and soul of lacrosse resides.”

As for the league’s innovative points system, Patricof said lacrosse may have featured the best format of any sport last year. As a result, there are few changes to the system, but defenders will be happy to know that forced shot clock violations will earn extra points for defenses and penalize opposing offenses.

The feedback from players who competed in Athletes Unlimited last season was overwhelmingly positive, Patricof said. The new crop of college lacrosse stars are slowly gaining the knowledge necessary to excel within the new rules, but each expressed excitement at its potential.

“I went offsides in the first two minutes of the game,” Lizzie Colson joked. “I forgot the restraining line was the 50. We’re learning, but I love it so far.”

“I’m getting the hang of it,” goalie Taylor Moreno said. “I’m just trying to make sure I don’t turn it over and lose points.”

Colson, Moreno, Mastroianni, Jamie Ortega and Charlotte North highlight a rookie class that has dominated college lacrosse for the better part of five years. Together, this group has brought the sport to new heights — and generated broadcast numbers higher than women’s lacrosse has ever seen.

North returned from the ESPYs early Thursday morning, with plenty of time to take the field for the 9 p.m. game as part of Team Read. 

“We’ve got a number of players that have had fifth years and have played college a little longer,” Patricof said. “They’re a little more mature and have more experience than maybe other years. It’s a proven group that’s ready to step up.”

On the heels of all-time ratings at both the NCAA final four and women’s world championship, there may be more attention on women’s lacrosse than ever before. Athletes Unlimited is hoping to carry the momentum forward in Season 2.

If Thursday night’s debut was any indication, players feel the league is heading in the right direction.

Sam Apuzzo, who finished No. 3 on the leaderboard last year, picked up where she left off with two goals and four assists in her team’s victory. Rookie Lauren Gilbert scored four goals for Team Apuzzo. Mastroianni had a hat trick for Team Glynn.

North went off in the nightcap, scoring three goals (including two 2-pointers) and adding three assists in Team Read’s 12-8 win over Team Waters. She tied the Athletes Unlimited single-game record with eight points.

Gilbert, Apuzzo and North finished opening day as the top three on the leaderboard. Week 1 continues Saturday.

“This is something that little kids are going to want to be part of,” Moreno said. “It’s great for growing this sport, getting it on TV and consistently on a schedule, with the exposure for it. It was awesome watching this last year but to be here, it’s crazy to think that kids get to watch us three times in a weekend. It’s big for the sport.”

“We’re doing a lot for the game,” Mastroianni said. “It’s our turn to keep this sport growing. This is exactly the type of platform to do it.”

Most Recent

Latrell Harris, Mike Messenger Thriving After Making the Jump Outdoors

NLL stalwarts, both Harris and Messenger have carved out roles as SSDMs in the PLL.

Amanda Johansen is Finally Playing Free

Johansen overcame injury last summer and is now fourth on the AU leaderboard.

Brett Frood Combines Passion and Product as NLL's New Commissioner

Frood, a former Brown lacrosse captain, will take over his new job on September 1.

Apuzzo Teams With Arsenault, Looks to Stay Perfect After Monday's AU Draft

Apuzzo hasn't lost a game this summer and sits in second place on the AU leaderboard.







Twitter Posts