When McDonogh's Sammie Burgess, Casey Black, Maggie Preas and Posey Valis play in the eighth annual Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Classic on Saturday at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium, they won't care so much about winning.
They won every game of their high school lacrosse careers as the Eagles finished the 2013 season with their 91st consecutive win, their fifth straight Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship and their fourth straight national No. 1 ranking.
Now, the girls are happy to leave that pressure behind.
"I don't think anyone goes into a game like this thinking, 'We have to win,' " Black said. "It's more of an honor and a showcase type of thing. You want to represent Baltimore lacrosse and all of the South, but I really don't feel any pressure to win. It's more about fun."
The South has beaten the North only twice, but last year's South team set the bar pretty high with a record-breaking 25-13 win — led by McDonogh graduates Taylor Cummings, who set a record with eight points, and Corinne Etchison, who had a record five assists.
The Eagles have more girls than any other team in an event that includes the top 44 seniors in the country. The four girls have played in underclassmen games over the past three years and have looked forward to the possibility of earning a roster spot in the senior game.
"It's awesome," Preas said. "It's something I've thought about for most of my high school career. Watching Taylor and Corinne and Liz [Bannatine] play last year, I was thinking it would be so awesome if I could do that."
All four look forward to playing with girls they know from around Baltimore — 13 of the 22 South players are from the area — as well as some of their future college teammates. Preas and Valis are headed to Virginia, which has three other recruits on the South team, including Severn's Kelly Reese. Burgess is headed to Florida, along with Century's Haley Bordner. Black is headed to Duke, and one of her future teammates will play for the North.
"It's really nice because you go in and you know everybody on the team, but you don't necessarily know them face-to-face," Burgess said, "so it's nice to have three people that I'm pretty close with there. I think it will help all of us to play better. I'm so excited to play with them one more time."
For Burgess, the All-America game marks the transition from high school to college, something for which she's ready. Like her Eagles teammates, she didn't pick a college based on the potential to keep winning every game.
"It was amazing, the streak and playing for McDonogh for four years, but it's time to move on, and regardless of whether we go undefeated at Florida, I picked Florida because I absolutely loved it. I'm excited to play with a whole new group of people. I'm from Harford County, and I didn't know people from McDonogh until I got there. I'm all about branching out and meeting people and opening myself up to new things," Burgess said.
As they look forward, the McDonogh girls are also starting to realize the uniqueness of their high school experiences. Only a handful of classes have gone through local high schools without suffering a loss in girls lacrosse. Loch Raven and Mount Hebron, which each won 103 straight games, also had girls who did.
Megan Bosica never lost a game at Mount Hebron, and she said the significance of the accomplishment grows as time passes.
"At the time, I knew it was special, but I never really acknowledged it. I never really wanted to tell people we never lost and we were the No. 1 team in the nation," Bosica said. "Looking back, it really is something to be proud of. People ask me, 'Where did you go to high school?' and when you talk about it, they are fascinated by it. At the time, you just think it's cool, and they should be really proud of that feeling."
Bosica, who went on to play at North Carolina, played in the first Under-Armour All-America Lacrosse Classic in 2006 and remembers losing that game. She also remembers that it didn't matter.
"I thought the [Under Armour] game was going to be a lot of fun, and it was,' the 25-year-old said. "I hope the [McDonogh] girls take it as a fun game. For me, I had so much pressure that entire [senior] season that, once I graduated, I was relieved for it to be over. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I realized I should have more fun with it."
The McDonogh girls also said the pressure to continue their streak bothered them a little more than they wanted to admit at the time.
"I think it would be a complete lie if we said it never got to us," Valis said, with a laugh. "Every team gave us their best shot. That's as much pressure as trying to keep the streak. When you always have a winning season, a loss is going to come eventually. You just try to put it off as long as possible."
After losing a lot of talent from the Class of 2012, the Eagles realized that few outside their ranks thought the streak could continue through this past season. The Eagles wondered at moments, too — on a season-opening trip to Florida, for example, where they trailed Vero Beach (Fla.) and Milton (Ga.) before rallying to win.
On that trip, the Eagles — especially the 17 seniors — learned that it wasn't going to be easy, and that it would take leadership from all the veterans, not just the captains, to pull through a 22-0 season. The program that hasn't lost since April 2009 finished off another perfect season with a comeback 11-8 win over St. Paul's in the IAAM A Conference final on May 13.
"I think the reason it meant so much to the senior class is because a lot of people doubted whether we could continue the streak," Burgess said. "I feel like the doubt almost fueled us. We had so many seniors and so many leaders, and we didn't want to let anybody down. We wanted to prove we could do it. I think it's amazing that we could."
Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Classic
Time: Girls at 5 p.m.; boys at 8 p.m.
Location: Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson University
Tickets: $30 (premium); $15 (general admission); $10 (student)*
TV: Boys game on ESPNU
More information: UnderArmourLacrosse.com
* All tickets will be assessed a $1 surcharge for parking.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun