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Pro women’s lacrosse returns with new Athletes Unlimited league

Professional women’s lacrosse is back in the summer of 2021! Athletes Unlimited announced Tuesday that it is launching a women’s lacrosse league that will run from July 19 to August 22 after the 2021 World Cup.

Athletes Unlimited CEO Jon Patricof and WPLL founder Michele DeJuliis started discussing the inclusion of women’s lacrosse to AU’s network in March. When the WPLL officially closed its doors in August, Patricof saw an opening with players who wanted to continue competing and a popular sport on the rise.

“Women’s lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States and incredibly popular among young players and fans,” Patricof said. “Our leagues are all about excitement, storytelling and fan engagement so lacrosse is the perfect addition to our network of pro sports leagues which already includes softball and indoor volleyball.”

Athletes Unlimited challenges the traditional way leagues are run by allowing players to control their careers and shape the league. There are no team owners, and coaches are seen more as support resources and facilitators rather than formal instructors. Former WPLL player Meg Douty found these concepts very appealing when signing on to play in the league.

“There’s a player executive committee where they’re helping to create the rules and making sure this league is going to be run right and exactly how we want it,” Douty said. “We are able to be vocal with the committee and give our feedback week to week to see how this league will mold and evolve. That focus is definitely a big difference that’s going to push things along for the future of this sport.”

AU also presents multiple innovations in its leagues that make the game more engaging for fans. The first variation is the format of women’s lacrosse games, derived from the proposed Olympic rules. This will include eight-minute quarters, a 60-second shot clock and 9v9 play on an 80 yard by 50 yard field. Douty has seen this format during her experience playing on Team USA and believes it will make the game more fast-paced, keeping fans engaged.

Another difference is the league’s team structure and schedule. There are no set teams in any Athletes Unlimited leagues. Instead, new teams are drafted each week by the top four players on the leaderboard. The drafts will take place Monday night with Tuesday to Thursday serving as practice days and games taking place Friday to Sunday.

The leaderboard is created through another innovation – the Athletes Unlimited point system. Players earn about 70% of their points from their team winning games and quarters while the other 30% comes from individual performance. At this time, the entire point system has not been created as the player executive committee continues to receive input from players about leveling the playing field between positions.

“As a defender, I’m not scoring crazy goals or doing a majority of the scoring for a team,” Douty said. “But watching what softball has done about defensive points and offensive points and all that stuff, I think they have a great formula. They’ll be able to give us the opportunity to score and get on those leaderboards and what not.”

Currently, 22 women’s lacrosse players have confirmed that they will participate in the new league this coming summer. Michelle Tumolo and Amber McKenzie were the first two players to sign on and have since helped Patricof recruit others. The league intends to have 56 players in total, but Patricof knows they must a good fit within the league’s model.

“There are decisions based on position and who is most qualified, but we are also looking for players that are going to be great teammates and league-mates, so to speak,” Patricof said. “This is an athlete-led organization and they will be making a lot of decisions, so a big part of this who do we want to work with, who do we want to have involved and who is going to help us make it best product on the field while developing and growing the league off the field.”

In addition to Douty, Tumolo and McKenzie, other players confirmed to be joining the league include Kayla Treanor, Emily Parros, Caylee Waters, Amanda Johansen, Haley Warden, Sammy Jo Tracy, Katie Hertsch, Cortney Fortunato, Katrina Geiger, Halle Majorana, Taylor Hensh, Sarah Brown, Brittany Read, Lindsey Ronbeck, Charlotte Sofield, Taylor VanThof, Britt Brown, Molly Wolf and Mira Shane.

Notable names currently missing from this list include Taylor Cummings, Kylie Ohlmiller, Marie McCool, Dempsey Arsenault and Sam Apuzzo. However, AU is expected to announce another wave of signings in a few weeks

Athletes Unlimited has also announced that DeJuliis will help run the league as the Senior Director of Lacrosse. Petricof knew it was important to keep her involved because of her experience and knowledge of professional game.

“Ever since I started the conversations with her, it has been really clear that she has a tremendous dedication and desire to see the professional level of the sport succeed,” Patricof said. “I’m a big believer that you learn from your successes and maybe where there are areas of improvement. She comes with such a wealth of knowledge that we will benefit from.”

Within this new league, AU strives to present the highest level of competition on the field while staying committed to professional development support for the players off the field.

Pro Lacrosse Talk will continue to keep you updated as more details are announced in preparation for the inaugural season.

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