Caylee Waters on Joining Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse

Caylee Waters Goalkeeper on field / JWS

Caylee Waters is a lacrosse goalie who will suit up to play for Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse in their inaugural season next summer. The new league will feature a unique, player-focused scoring system, with teams being redrafted each week as players compete for individual prizes. Waters is also a member of the US Women’s National Team and was a two-time National Goalie of the Year as a student-athlete at the University of North Carolina.

What originally sold you on the vision of Athletes Unlimited?

What sold me was the opportunity to continue bringing exposure to the game of lacrosse. Lacrosse is a sport I love, no matter what, and this an opportunity for us to grow the game. Even though the other leagues may not have worked out, we still had fan engagement, and people still refer to those leagues as ways to get to know players. After the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League folded, there weren’t any other options out there to play professional lacrosse apart from the U.S. national team, which only happens every four years. I was excited that there is now an opportunity, and having this league as a resource for the sport is what made me excited to hop on board.

What was the recruiting pitch and have you been recruiting other players since joining the roster? 

It hasn’t been my role necessarily to recruit other players. They had reached out to me about a few months ago and pitched this idea on a deck. It was totally a brand new concept, so I sat on it for a bit. They were great about letting me take my time with the process and ask questions.

I heard from softball player Gwen Svekis about her experience with the softball league, and she shared areas in which it was awesome in addition to what they learned they can work on as a league, and as players, to make it better next year. I was glad to hear it wasn’t all “hey, here’s all the great things that it’s going to be,” but that they were honest.

Lacrosse stats aren’t as clean cut as softball’s. What have you heard about what the point system will look like? And what are your overall thoughts on how it will work? 

I’m not too familiar with how it’s going to work specifically with lacrosse. I think they’re still coordinating and ironing out those details regarding the point system. I think it’s going to be an adjustment. It’s different.

Additionally, coming from a background of four years of college lacrosse, where you hear a lot emphasis on a team, this feels like a big mind shift to now focus on your individual stats. But what’s important to note is that although there are individual stats, these individual stats are dependent on other factors. A goal often depends on multiple players. So there is still that team concept, in addition to the fact you get points based on your team’s win. The game is not entirely individualized, which I like.

Another unique aspect of the AU format is how teams are re-drafted each week of the season by whichever players scored the most the week before. Do you have any initial thoughts on how you think that’ll go?

This is very different, so I’m excited to see how it goes. I’m not sure what it’s going to be like.

It’s similar to being back on the playground where you pick teams, and there’s always someone who has to be last, but no one ever wants to be that person. But at the end of the day, we all get the opportunity to play lacrosse.

We know the play will be fast because of the field size and shot clock — what other impacts are you predicting on play?

The game’s going to be a lot faster and it’s going to require people who usually are defenders or attackers to build their skills on the other side of the field because the ball will be moving back and forth so much. That will be fun to see. The game is going to be a lot more engaging given it has less players and smaller space. Each player is more involved than they would be in a bigger field with more people, where sometimes you could not see the ball for a long period of time. I think there will be a lot more involvement all around the field.

Obviously, there’s been a big push to get lacrosse in the Olympics in the near future. How do you think this league will impact that effort? 

Hopefully this inspires lacrosse players around the world. In the WPLL, they took a couple of trips to Japan and played lacrosse with them, in addition to getting a player from Japan involved in the league. Hopefully lacrosse will grow, and people all over the world can see it, aspire to be part of it, aspire to level up their game. And hopefully there being a lot more representation of the sport across the world leads to it being considered for the Olympics.

I know you have a full-time job, and I’m sure a lot of the other players have full time jobs too, or at least coaching positions that are full time positions. How do you balance that with being a professional athlete? Especially, when this is going to be a six week season. 

I have some confidence, because I have experience working from home while balancing training for the U.S. team. I think it’ll work out, since the games are on the weekend. The AU softball league had people who were able to work full time. They had people with kids and families who had to balance family time with being away. The league is understanding, and I feel it will be balanced. It’s what I’m used to: In college, you have to put academics first and then athletics. When you have a passion for something, you find a way to make it work.