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Devon Wills trying to become first woman to play in all-male Major League Lacrosse

Devon Wills, the first female Major League Lacrosse

Devon Wills, the first female Major League Lacrosse player, practices with the New York Lizards on Saturday, April 5th 2014, at Centereach High School. Credit: Bob Sorensen

Devon Wills is no stranger to early wake-up calls. After all, when you're an assistant coach for the USC women's lacrosse team and trying to become the first woman to suit up in the all-male Major League Lacrosse, sleep is low on the to-do list.

After being signed by the New York Lizards in December, Wills -- a three-time NCAA All-American goalie at Dartmouth from 2004-06 -- spent two months acclimating herself to the increased speed of the men's game.

"There's been a lot of early mornings, with lifting, running and facing shots," Wills said. "But this is what I do all the time. I'm a lax-head."

Those early mornings haven't stopped. Wills, 30, landed at JFK airport at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and made it to Long Island in time for a 9:30 a.m. preseason training session, the first of two held at Centereach and Smithtown West high schools. Because of her commitments at USC, the double dip was the only chance Wills will have to showcase her skills to the Lizards' staff before the final 25-player roster is announced later this month.

Wills, who helped Team USA win gold medals in 2009 and 2013 in the women's World Cup, has been holding her own private practice sessions since late January in California to get ready for the transition to the men's game.

"Had I not done any of that prep work, I would have been completely shelled today," she said with a chuckle.

Wills said she had to adjust to how the ball is fired at the net, a big change from the shots that she has made her name stopping. "The speed of the release [is different]," she said. "But it's also what's going on in front. They shoot a lot of shots with screens in front of you. In the women's game, that just doesn't happen."

But any growing pains Wills may have had didn't cloud coach Joe Spallina's opinion of her.

"I thought she was great today," he said. "She showed she can play."

Spallina said he doesn't have a "hard date" in mind for a final decision on Wills' roster prospects.

"She's a college coach. So we have to see if, logistically, it works for her schedule," he said. "We're 100 percent open-minded to her competing for a roster spot."

The Trojans' regular season ends April 27, the same day the Lizards open up against the Rochester Rattlers at Hofstra. Wills said she hasn't thought that far ahead, but she wouldn't be able to fully commit to the Lizards until after the USC season is completed.

But first, she has to make the team.

"I have total confidence that the Lizards staff is going to look at everything long and hard and do what's best for the program," she said. "I try and stay away from any expectations or thinking about my chances. I just do what I can control and let them worry about the roster."

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