After UMBC's Jenna Baverman started playing lacrosse in eighth grade, she played a lot of attack and midfield. Then she "fell in love with defense."
Excelling at the position has taken her further than she ever dreamed even though she picked up the game much later than almost all her peers. It's taken the Roland Park graduate to Division I college lacrosse and to Israel's national team, which will play for the Federation of International Lacrosse Women's World Cup in July.
"I'm intense. I'm very emotional, I'm very passionate like loud, aggressive, which is exactly what defense needs," Baverman said of a position that requires constant communication.
In her first season at UMBC after transferring from Hofstra, the sophomore has helped UMBC to an 11-5 record and the third seed in the America East tournament at Stony Brook. The Retrievers open the tournament Friday at 8 p.m. against Albany, which beat them, 19-12, last month.
Baverman, who has 10 caused turnovers, plays a key role in a defense that is holding opponents to 11 goals per game while her attacking teammates average 14.69.
UMBC coach Amy (Appelt) Slade, a Tewaaraton Award winner as an attacker at Virginia in 2004, said Baverman has exceptionally quick hands, which make her a threat to every opposing attacker with the ball.
"When you think you're protecting your stick, she does have a really quick check and then ... there's the ball on the ground," Slade said. "We play a team-oriented type of defense where everyone has to slide, everyone has to shift, sticks up, but she brings an intensity to it that really elevates the entire unit as a whole and those quick hands and those quick checks that you're not expecting as an attacker that plays behind [the goal], gets us some quick turnovers."
While Baverman said she loved the Retrievers as soon as she arrived, it wasn't an easy transition. She had to learn an entirely new defense, the backer zone. In high school, in club, at Hofstra and internationally with Israel's Under-19 national team, she had always played man-to-man.
Fortunately, the backer zone was also new to her teammates. Slade and defensive coach Morgan Stephens were converting the Retrievers from man-to-man beginning with fall ball.
"Coming in, I was open-minded but definitely hesitant," Baverman said. "The whole fall I was struggling a lot with learning the backer and getting slides down and really syncing. It's a completely different defense than it was last year, so we were all working on it together. We all had to sync together and learn together, which I think was a lot easier than me coming in just the one addition."
At Hofstra, Baverman played in 16 games and started 11. She said several things happened to make her want to transfer to a program closer to home. She was homesick. Although she was thrilled to play for Pride coach Shannon Smith, another Tewaaraton-winning attacker, Baverman said they began to butt heads, likely a product of them having similar personalities she said. She also didn't feel challenged enough by the academic program.
Aiming to become a dentist, she said, "I was from Roland Park, which is a highly known academic school, and I just knew I was selling myself short.
"I think I didn't even know UMBC was so academically challenging. When I got here and started the same track that I was on with [biology and chemistry], it was totally different here, which is a good thing. I want to be pushed constantly."
On the lacrosse field, she's also doing all she can to be pushed, playing internationally for Israel. Training for the World Cup is her first experience with the senior national team, but she played for Israel in its first Under 19 Women's World Lacrosse Championship in Scotland two years ago.
A couple of years before that, she was recruited by U-19 coach Hannah Deoul, a McDonogh graduate. She went on the Israel lacrosse winter service trip for 10 days along with about 90 other Jewish Americans to try out for the team and to give back by working to help develop the sport in elementary and middle schools.
After her experience in the U-19 world championships, where she led Israel with six goals, seven assists and 17 caused turnovers in eight games, Baverman wanted to stay involved with the program.
"The sport's developing fast," she said. "We're getting a lot of skilled young adults to really grow the game and then they come here to America and they see how we play here, so it's a really good connection we have. It's really cool to connect your religion with the sport I get to play every day."
Although many of the players on Israel's team are American and have dual citizenship, Baverman, 20, does not, so she is playing as one of three exemptions allotted to each nation's team for players who don't carry the country's passport.
Like Baverman, most of Israel's players have Division I college experience. Several are from Maryland, including coach Lauren (Paul) Norris, who played at McDonogh.
Norris said she likes that Baverman is still competing in college so that she's familiar with the changing game and has the ability to anticipate what's happening beyond her own position.
"She really understands the full picture of what we're trying to do," Norris said, "and she's a playmaker. She makes things happen. On top of that, even though she's one of the youngest on our team, she's a vocal leader on the field, which is hard to find in some of the younger players."
In mid-April, Baverman joined her Israel teammates for training in the United States. She'll head to Israel in June for a month of training before the World Cup.
The experience of playing internationally, she said, has helped her become a stronger Division I defender early in her college career.
"Just being able to play all summer, year round, helps me in every aspect coming to college. It helps me stay in training shape. It helps my mental strength," she said. "On the international level, there's not really a team you can walk over, there's not a team you can underestimate. As much as anyone can win any day in Division I lacrosse, it's a higher level internationally with everyone being at their peak every day."