When local girls lacrosse players began contemplating the future of their athletic careers, quite a few of them looked south – as far south as possible.
As Amanda O'Leary, head coach of Florida's brand-new women's lacrosse program, collects the paperwork this week from her first signing class, a lot of those letters of intent will come from Baltimore girls.
Look in The Baltimore Sun today at the chart of girls lacrosse players who are signing this week and you will see Florida come up an awful lot.
One reason is that Florida has more spots available as a new fully funded program that will debut in the spring of 2010. For players who want to go to a warm climate, Florida is the jackpot. There's no other Division I women's program south of North Carolina.
Some players, of course, prefer established programs, and the local powerhouses certainly got their share of talent. But with new Division I programs popping up every year, other girls want to get in on the ground floor. The girls headed to Gainesville next year come from some of the area's best programs, including John Carroll, Severna Park, McDonogh and Mount Hebron.
Ask McDonogh's Kitty Cullen, an All-Metro midfielder last spring, why she chose Florida and she says, "I don't know where to begin."
Cullen was so impressed that she committed to the Gators last January.
"I guess no other schools really compared to it," she said. "They offered everything I could have imagined. I just saw how the athletes got treated there, and I also wanted to be a part of a new program."
O'Leary knew the kind of talent she would find in the Baltimore area, having recruited here while at Yale. At first, she wasn't sure she could draw the blue-chip players to a start-up program, despite all the amenities already in place at a big-time sports school.
"The exciting part of this is knowing we can go after the best of the best and they're going to come here. You always worry with a new program that you don't have the facilities to show them or the former student-athletes for them to meet. They just have to believe in the dream," she said, adding that when the Gators finally take the field, they will do so in a new lacrosse-only facility.
Cullen said the girls who have committed to Florida, including her McDonogh teammate Colby Rhea, have gotten together a few times to get to know each other. They are all looking forward to building the program in Gainesville.
"We will go down in history with the program," Cullen said, "and [O'Leary] got a lot of good players, so I think as we get older and with a little experience, we'll be really good."
-- Katherine Dunn