As a 6-year-old, Laurie Schwoy learned a lot about toughness, holding her own in a recreation soccer league for boys.
It has paid off for the McDonogh junior, now one of the nation's best high school players. Schwoy, barely 5 feet 4 and 115 pounds, is often double- or triple-teamed by larger defenders.
Despite the pounding she takes, Schwoy has 55 goals and 19 assists this year. She has been involved in all but 10 of the 84 goals scored by the Eagles (17-0-2), ranked No. 2 in the area and No. 6 nationally by USA Today.
"With the things that other players are doing to her, it's amazing she can still do what she does," said McDonogh co-coach Maurice Boylan. "Dribbling, fakes, laser passes. She improvises things you can't teach, even with two or three girls clipping at her heels."
In fact, Schwoy's coaches and her mother, Annette, say she's unfairly targeted.
"Some referees, when she's fouled, allow play to continue because maybe they feel Laurie's got an advantage in skill," said co-coach Ted Scocos, adding that Schwoy's retaliations have drawn "half-a-dozen yellow cards."
"I'm concerned, because parents at one game wanted Laurie's legs broken or elbows to her face," Annette Schwoy said. "But Laurie's no wimp. She's had pulled hamstrings, sprained ankles, yet never cried or had to be carried off of the field."
St. Mary's coach Jerry Tobin provides a different perspective.
"I don't think teams are too physical against Laurie as much as she takes dives," said Tobin. "If she gets hit, goes down, and the ref buys it, she gets the foul. She should expect to get chased."
Schwoy has come to expect national attention. Her season began with a Sept. 20 feature in USA Today.
Three weeks later, an ESPN television crew followed Schwoy through her classes, where she maintains a 3.2 grade-point average. Their cameras captured her later that day as she had a goal and an assist in the Eagles' 2-0 victory over Catholic League rival Mercy.
"As a freshman, I was confident, wanted all of the attention and wanted to be the best player possibly in the country," said Schwoy, an All-Metro striker and last year's Catholic League Player of the Year.
"It can be overwhelming at times, but teachers and friends are constantly inspiring me to work harder."
It would be hard to do much better than earning All-America honors and a spot on the under-16 Olympic Developmental National Team as a sophomore. She has 132 career goals and 54 career assists over nearly three seasons.
"Laurie is one of the most talented young players in the country, no question an Olympic-caliber player," said her National Team coach, Carlos Juarez.
"She has a lot of natural abilities and a flair for creating something out of nothing."
As a freshman, she scored seven game-winning goals in the first 15 games. She had a goal and an assist in last year's 2-0 title victory over John Carroll, capping a 49-goal, 21-assist season for the 19-0 Eagles.
McDonogh is 54-3-3 since Schwoy arrived, with a 37-0-2 unbeaten streak since November 1992. The Eagles were ranked No. 3 nationally with an 11-game winning streak until tying St. Mary's last Wednesday.
But other McDonogh players have benefited when opposing teams focus on Schwoy, including Julie Baker (nine goals, eight assists), Kara Cristaldi (two, 15), Kendra Powell (eight, three) and Natalie Cox (nine, three).
"Laurie was born with a tenacity to work hard for everything, and our league doesn't hand her anything," said Cristaldi. "But teams try to shut us down by shutting down Laurie, which doesn't work."
An example was McDonogh's 5-1 victory over Wilde Lake, which had two players from the Olympic developmental squad defending Schwoy, according to Scocos. Schwoy scored a goal anyway, as did four teammates.
Schwoy has the ability to score with her back to the goal and a defender on her, which should "make the transition to college easier," said North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, whose team has won 12 of the past 13 women's NCAA titles.
"She's whacking banana balls around walls that get sucked into the corners," Scocos said. "She's scoring some awesome goals."