Playing for More Than Herself, Kayla Wood Taking Athletes Unlimited By Storm

For the third straight week, Kayla Wood steps into a Team Gold uniform: a consistent reminder of how she first fell in love with lacrosse.

After the first two weeks of Athletes Unlimited, Wood tops the leaderboard with 812 points — 59 points ahead of second-place Dempsey Arsenault. Fresh out of North Carolina, Wood solidified herself as a player to be feared — and loved — in professional lacrosse.

In a first-year league that ranks individual players on a point system, Wood plays for more than herself.

Each time Wood puts on Team Gold’s uniform — which is a deep yellow tone ​​— she’s reminded of her high school friend Brittany Stevens.

Wood and Stevens became friends during their freshman year at Catonsville (Md.) High School. Stevens was a talented lacrosse player, and after a few years away from the sport, Wood was getting back into the swing of it. Wood said Stevens pushed her to get better; the two hit the gym before school at 5:30 a.m. and stayed after school to shoot around. 

They both made the varsity lacrosse team as freshmen and appeared in the state championship game that same year. Each went on to play Division I lacrosse — Wood at UNC and Stevens at La Salle.

Stevens died in December 2019. Yellow was her favorite color. 

“She does try to spread that kindness and make sure everyone is doing well around her.”

— Kylie Ohlmiller

Wood said Stevens’ room at home was yellow and blue, the same as the colors of Catonsville High School and La Salle.

Wood sees her yellow uniform as a sign that Stevens is on the field with her. 

“I think about her every day,” Wood said. “I try to carry her memory on through playing lacrosse and trying to be the best person that I can be. She was always there for people. I try to live my life how she lived her life. [After she died], I made it a mission to really try to be my best to be there for people and let people know they have at least one person in their corner and they’re never alone.”

Three days after meeting Wood, Week 1 captain Kylie Ohlmiller scouted players during scrimmages at Maureen Hendricks Field in Boyds, Md., for the first Athletes Unlimited draft. On the sideline, Ohlmiller was nervous and stressed by the number of players she needed to watch and the new, somewhat foreign process of the league.

“[Wood] saw that I was really stressed out watching other teams’ games and she came over to me and was like, ‘Are you alright? I know that everybody’s bringing you certain opinions and who you should draft and asking all these questions, but I’m just checking in,’” Ohlmiller said.

The two barely spoke in the days prior, but in that moment, Ohlmiller felt seen. Instantly, she knew the kind of person Wood is.

“She does try to spread that kindness and make sure everyone is doing well around her,” Ohlmiller said. “It shows in her play and who she is as a person.”

Ohlmiller drafted Wood for her Week 1 team.

Wood made a statement on the field. In her first weekend, the defensive midfielder scored one goal with one assist, three caused turnovers and six ground balls. In her first three games, Wood earned 497 points, 90 of which came from her first-place MVP vote. 

With 20 points awarded for each period won and 45 points for each game won, Wood’s undefeated record helped shoot her to the top of the league. Through two weeks of play, Wood is first in periods won (340 points) and games won (270 points).

Something of an under-the-radar star, Wood played a key role down the stretch for a star-studded North Carolina team. Her rise in the professional ranks is surprising to some — but not to those who have been around her on the field.

“She’s aggressive and commands the ball,” said Alex Aust, Wood’s teammate and draftee in Week 2. “She’s a team player. She fights for the person to the left and right of her. It speaks volumes in this league. You can be scoring all the goals, but if your team doesn’t win, you’re not going to be at the top of the leaderboard. She’s 6-0 for a reason.”

Wood credits her competitive side to her family. From game nights ending in yelling and always losing to her dad in driveway basketball, Wood said the fact that her family never went easy on her helped her grow into a fierce competitor.

Wood’s father, Scott, coached her in basketball and soccer in elementary school, and from a young age, Wood said he emphasized being a good teammate and putting the team first. It’s why she does the same.


Growing up, Wood never wanted to be the kid who scored all the goals. She felt at the time — and still feels now — most alive getting stops and knocking down passes. That feeling caused her to return to the field and join Athletes Unlimited.

“[Wood] brings the energy, brings a smile and has a ton of fun with it,” Ohlmiller said. “She also doesn’t like to lose. She’s going to do everything she can to help her teammates out.”

Aust said the same. On the field, Wood is competitive, gritty and “smiley.”

Aust didn’t play in Week 1. After the Week 2 draft, Aust thanked Wood for picking her. She was surprised by the reassurance and trust the 22-year-old Wood had put in the 30-year-old Maryland veteran.

“You were my sleeper pick,” Wood told Aust. “I couldn’t believe you were still on the board.”

Those words meant a lot to Aust, who said as an athlete, she still gets down on herself and feels insecure. But Wood is big on “good vibes,” bringing positive energy to the team and letting each draftee know she believes in them. Wood is the first to celebrate any teammate's goal, and, as Aust put it, to be a “hype woman” for the people around her.

After the season ends, Wood isn’t sure about what she’ll do next professionally. Her main focus, however, is having a positive impact on people.

“Leave something better than how you found it,” Wood said. “Realistically, we have 80 years to make a difference. I think it’s important to try and leave the world better than the way you came into it.”

That reminder is always with her, especially on the field in her yellow uniform, and in Week 1 and Week 3, on the sideline, where the Stevens family sits to watch Wood play.