For the past year, Crista Samaras left her apartment on Manhattan's West Side every weekday before noon to run more than three miles while cradling a lacrosse ball in her stick. She then traded her lacrosse stick for a pair of boxing gloves and spent the next three hours pounding punching bags.
Three days a week, the chief executive officer of three lacrosse-oriented companies walked more than a mile to the West Village to lift weights for two hours with her personal trainer before calling it a day.
Samaras's arduous training regimen paid off when the 28-year-old from Annapolis was one of 16 players chosen for the U.S. team that will compete in the International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations' World Cup.
The four-time defending champion Americans are the favorite, even though no host country has ever won the event, which includes a second-place finish by the United States in Philadelphia in 1986.
"If this is where I wrap up my career, then I can't think of a better place than here in Annapolis, right in my home town," said Samaras, a former two-time All-Met at Annapolis High who was a member of the U.S. team that won the World Cup in 2001 in England. "I began playing sports at the Naval Academy by going to sports camps there since I was in first grade -- swimming, diving, soccer, even figure skating camp. This is where sports started for me."
But if the United States' domination is going to continue, experience will have to trump youth. Samaras, a three-time all-American midfielder at Princeton before graduating in 1999, is among 11 U.S. players who are at least 28. Eight are at least 30, and three are at least 35, making the U.S. team by far the competition's oldest.
The average age of the U.S. team is 29.8 years; the four teams in its pool -- England, Canada, Wales and Australia -- average 25.8 years. The two youngest teams are Japan (23.1 years) and Germany (24.3 years).
"When I picked the team, I picked the 16 players who played the best together, not just the 16 players who are the best individually because lacrosse is a team game," said Coach Sue Stahl, who has guided the United States to the past four World Cup titles. "I didn't even look at age because it's just a number. I think we have a lot of excellent players with a lot of experience."
Twelve players on the U.S. roster have won at least one World Cup; goalie Jess Wilk, attacker Danielle Gallagher and midfielder Cherie Greer have three.
"It's funny hearing people knock the older group because when it comes to who is the most skilled, age doesn't matter," said Gallagher, 38. "I think making this team came down to doing the little things. You have to be versatile."
The U.S. roster is filled with players with ties to Maryland. Attacker Lauren Aumiller, a three-time all-American at Virginia before graduating in 2003, is from Towson and midfielder Kate Kaiser, a four-time all-American at Duke who graduated in 2003, is from Cockeysville. Wilk -- along with midfielders Quinn Carney, Kristin Sommar, Kelly Amonte Hiller and Randall Goldsborough, who played at St. Mary's-Annapolis and is now the girls' athletic director at the Bullis School in Potomac -- all had illustrious careers at the University of Maryland.
"I think what helps us is that since most of us have played together we have an amazing chemistry and we know what each of us can do on the field," said Amonte Hiller, who recently coached the Northwestern women's team to the NCAA title, but was selected to the World Cup team after nine of her players were cut. "We all have one goal, and that's to win the World Cup."