The speed of sixes stands out, especially on 90-degree-plus days in Birmingham, Alabama, where even sitting in the stands induces sweat.
For Japan’s Honoka Ida and Negai Nakazawa, however, the pace of play is their favorite part of World Lacrosse Sixes, the discipline of lacrosse making its global debut at The World Games 2022.
“There are so many opportunities to shoot,” said Ida, through a translator. “We like the speed of the game.”
The Japanese team looked ready for precisely that, easily overcoming the Czech Republic, 23-10, with the biggest winning margin on day one of the women’s competition.
“It was a great feeling to see it play out in the first game,” said Nakazawa. “We have been preparing for the medal, to try for the first time fr Japan – it’s a dream.”
Japan is looking for its first senior medal on the women’s side. That ambition was noticeable in the first game through the squad’s attention to the nuance of sixes: the offense dazzled with rapid transitions, pinpoint passing and a superb shooting display. It was meant to look that way.
@worldlacrosse Back for more 😤 #lax #lacrosse #theworldgames2022 #theworldgames #twg2022 #lacrossehighlights #womenslacrosse #wlax #japan #teamjapan🇯🇵 #teamjapan #sixes #lacrosselife ♬ I Can’t Stop (Ekali Tribute) – Flux Pavilion
Japan picked a team of 12 players who specifically chose to play sixes in January, and they trained rigorously as a group for six months.
“We focused on our conditioning, stick work and performing under pressure,” said Nakazawa. “In 10 versus 10, the Japanese style is not to make as much contact, but sixes is different. We always tried to simulate that and focus on the pressure.”
It paid off. Japan scored the most goals of any of the women’s teams on day one, while outshooting its opponents by nine and picking up six more ground balls. Nakazawa had six goals and three assists herself while teammate Miho Tomomori stole the show with nine goals, the most of any player in a game in Birmingham so far.
Organizationally, Japan was drawn by the novelty of sixes, which presented an opportunity for the country to test itself with a group of players separate from the squad that just competed at the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship last week in Maryland.
“It’s a new game. We loved that,” said Ida. “And we love that it’s the top eight teams. That’s why the tournament is there, to compete against the best teams in the world.”
The stage was alluring for Nakazawa as well, who hopes to play college lacrosse in the NCAA and hopes that her strong play will get her noticed by coaches.
It has already been a strong summer for Japan, with the aforementioned team in Maryland claiming fifth place at the world championship, the country’s best-ever finish.
The men’s team turned heads in Birmingham as well, claiming the bronze medal to become the first Japan team to win a medal in a senior level competition.
— Kevin Boilard (@KevinBoilard) July 11, 2022
This women’s team is ready for its own moment, and six months of hyper-focused preparation has equipped the players to seize it. The nature of sixes rewards the fundamentals of lacrosse and the willingness to endure – Japan is betting that it has honed both.
“Challenge and belief,” offered Ida. “Those are our words for this tournament.”
In more words, Japan has the recognition of the opportunity and confidence in its foundation that are necessary to make history. The focus and energy in the camp after the opening win were that of a team excited for, and not burdened by, the stage.
Japan’s path to the semifinals requires advancing out of a group rounded out by the United States and Australia, traditional powerhouses in the women’s game. By all early indications, this team has what it takes to defy the status quo.