Pair of Blue Devils balances obligations

Most of Duke's players will never have the chance to play for a team better than a top-ranked collegiate program.

But sometimes, as in the cases of senior attacker Caroline Cryer and sophomore midfielder Sarah Bullard, certain players are presented once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to take their talents to the next level.

On Feb. 2, US Lacrosse selected Cryer and Bullard as two of 18 players that will represent the United States this summer in the 2009 World Cup in Prague, Czech Republic. Although Cryer and Bullard have had international experience in the past, the prospect of representing their country in the pinnacle of women's lacrosse is a dream that each has looked forward to their entire careers.

"It's a dream come true," Cryer said. "We are really excited to go represent our country."

Cryer-a preseason All-American for the No. 2 Blue Devils (4-0), who travel to No. 5 Maryland (2-0) Saturday at noon-had a unique journey on her road to earn a spot on the World Cup roster. After her freshman season in 2005, she made the U.S. developmental team, for which she played for two seasons.

Still, she didn't think her international experience would amount to her being on the World Cup team. In 2007, she was named to the U.S. Elite team and played for Sue Heether, who will lead the national team in June as the squad's head coach.

"We chose [Cryer] because of her determination and drive toward the ball," Heether said. "Her height and strength make it so difficult to defend her, and she is an athlete that can really adapt to our style of play.... We feel that she will be very successful in our program."

In addition to her ability to attack the goal, the Blue Devil captain has tremendous off-ball skills, Heether said. Along with Cryer's scoring talents, her ability to feed the ball to her teammates, get assists and act as a decoy will help generate offense and create scoring opportunities for the national team.

Cryer's leadership could be beneficial, especially for Bullard, her young Duke teammate.

"There is not much you can say that Sarah Bullard does not do well," Heether said. "When she came into the developmental program, we knew she was going to be a special player. We chose her due to her absolute performance in the midfield to do everything.... She is a spark in transition, on the attack and is an exceptional defender."

Bullard, the youngest player to ever earn a spot on the national team, began her involvement with US Lacrosse as a senior in high school, when she was a captain of the U-19 national team that captured the world championship in 2007.

At first, the national team's coaching staff felt unsure that Bullard was ready to play at the highest level. But after training with the group for a short time last summer, all concerns about Bullard's age immediately dissipated because of her exceptional play.

"I didn't even necessarily go into the tryout last summer expecting to make the team, but it worked out really well," Bullard said. "It's not something that I thought I'd be able to do at this age, but I am so excited to do it with Cryer."

The presence of her older teammate helped Bullard in her transition to the national team, she said. The pair has developed a close blond through being teammates on the World Cup squad, which also features two Duke alumni in Katie Chrest and Megan Huether, both of whom graduated in 2006.

"It is awesome how we have that Duke connection. There is a tremendous amount of pride there," Cryer said. "Hopefully we can translate that to the rest of the team and work together with everyone."

Cryer and Bullard have the full support of the Duke program, said head coach Kerstin Kimel, who won a gold medal on the World Cup team in 2003.

"I am so proud of them," Kimel said. "It's great for Duke.... They really represent everything that embodies a student-athlete and I think they will do a wonderful job representing our country."

The Duke program has made a point of encouraging its players to participate in international competition, especially because the systems are so compatible with each other, Kimel said.

And Bullard and Cryer are certainly grateful for Kimel's preparing them for the world's highest level of lacrosse.

"It gives me chills just thinking about it," Bullard said. "There are no words to describe how we are feeling."


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