Sam Apuzzo’s goal for the Athletes Unlimited lacrosse season is to make sure that her team keeps winning.
After playing in AU’s inaugural season in 2021, Apuzzo has taken a different approach to the four-week campaign in Maryland this year, focusing more on results than on individual points.
“I think the biggest thing for what I learned from last year to this year is the importance of actually having a lot of wins,” the attacker told Just Women’s Sports. “So I’m just focused on winning this year with my team and every team that may be on, getting that team going because that’s what matters the most.”
Apuzzo finished last season third in the league standings, 258 points behind inaugural champion Taylor Cummings. It took three weeks for one of Apuzzo’s teams to win a game, as she and the other players acclimated to AU’s unique rules and points system.
So far this year, Apuzzo has yet to lose a game.
“She’s just a born winner,” Charlotte North, current league leader in goals, said after Team Apuzzo’s 8-5 win over Team Arsenault on Sunday.
Apuzzo’s focus on the team has led to payoffs individually as well: She currently sits second on the leaderboard with 965 points, 31 behind rookie goalie Taylor Moreno, and will serve as a captain for the third week in a row.
After missing out on the captain’s role last season, Apuzzo is learning that there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to naming a roster and making tactical decisions. On Sunday, despite not scoring in a game for the first time in her Athletes Unlimited career, Apuzzo watched as the team she selected got the job done.
“What I’m learning, being a captain, is that everyone is so smart around you,” she said.
She’s also leaned on her teammates’ ideas and knowledge of their opponents as they’ve attempted to work “from the inside out.”
SAM APUZZO WITH THE BUZZER BEATER‼️@SamApuzzo makes it 12-5 going into the 4th quarter.#AULax | 📺: ESPNU pic.twitter.com/MuoiA5LfqV— Athletes Unlimited (@AUProSports) July 23, 2022
SAM APUZZO WITH THE BUZZER BEATER‼️@SamApuzzo makes it 12-5 going into the 4th quarter.#AULax | 📺: ESPNU pic.twitter.com/MuoiA5LfqV
The experience will help her as she heads back to Boston College in the fall, where she’ll begin her second season as a full-time assistant coach after a decorated playing career. Apuzzo graduated in 2019 as the Eagles’ all-time leading goal scorer with 283 goals.
“’I’m learning when playing with so many different people who went to different schools, people who have been coached by different people, or people who are coaches,” said Apuzzo. “You learn a lot just by being around and hearing different things.”
She’s also learning about the sport from a higher level as a member of the Player Executive Committee this season.
“I’ve learned a lot about leadership in general. The idea of bringing a lot of opinions in and making executive decisions off of that,” said Apuzzo, who wants to see the sport eventually make the Olympic roster in 2028.
As AU lacrosse continues to build momentum, Apuzzo would like to see the sport grow on the international stage, too. After winning the World Lacrosse Championship with Team USA in June, Apuzzo believes that women’s lacrosse is “really close” to becoming a part of the Summer Olympics, maybe as soon as 2028 in Los Angeles.
“Based on the crowd we had in every single game, I think it shows that lacrosse is going in the right direction,” Apuzzo said of the tournament. “We’re knocking on the door of the Olympics. I think we definitely made a case for ourselves, so hopefully we can keep moving forward.”
Apuzzo played a big role in the United States’ run to the first World Championship on home soil and their ninth title overall. She had three goals and two assists in the final against Canada, which she called “the most competitive kind of game” she’s ever played in.
“It was honestly for me a dream come true,” Apuzzo said. “Ever since I picked up a stick and really ran with myself playing lacrosse, the national team and playing for Team USA was the big goal that I had.
“It’s kind of surreal to say it. Like, who can really say that they’ve accomplished their dreams, which is something that I’ll hold forever and be able to look back on?”
With two more weeks to try to ascend to the top of the AU leaderboard behind team wins and individual points, Apuzzo has the second annual title in her reach. And by this time next year, odds are she’ll be dreaming even bigger.
Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.