There was a time, two years ago, when Yvonne Streater was apprehensive when entering a lacrosse game.
She was just a sophomore at Walbrook High and had never played organized lacrosse before. To that point, Streater's only experience with the sport had taken place in middle school gym classes, where many girls, if they had their "druthers," probably would have chosen arithmetic over lacrosse.
Inexperience wasn't her only obstacle. She was playing on the varsity boys team.
Like most other Baltimore public high schools, Walbrook has no girls lacrosse program, leaving Streater one option if she wanted to pursue lacrosse.
"I didn't think it would be that hard to play with the boys, so I played with the boys," said Streater, now a senior in her third season.
Don't misunderstand. The difference between the girls and boys games is titanic. Fouls are called more often in the girls game, and contact is discouraged; boys check. And city lacrosse is notorious for being physical.
So when Streater, who plays attack for the 10-2 Warriors, entered her first game against Patterson in 1998, the jitters were expected. "When I first got out there, they passed me the ball," she said. "I prayed I'd catch it."
She didn't. Streater struggled to control the ball and heard footsteps from behind. She knew what was coming.
"He hit me so hard I had an asthma attack," said Streater. "He knocked the wind out of me. I'm surprised my coach put me back in the game."
Two years after that initial check, Streater is still being sent onto the field with the boys. She is the only girl playing on a boys city team. She earned her spot on the team after then-coach Richard Hall noticed her watching practice and invited her to play.
Since then, Streater has gained a sound grasp of the fundamentals and, while she doesn't seek contact, she doesn't shy from it, either.
"I don't do much hitting on the other guys," she said. "I don't have the power. When I hit them, it doesn't faze them. I do a lot of stick checking and try to get the ball from them."
Streater has no burning desire to compete against other girls, but Walbrook coach Anthony Ryan said she would dominate in that setting.
"She'd be awesome. I know she would," said Ryan, whose Warriors play host to Damascus at 3:45 p.m. today in the first round of the regional playoffs.
"If she was going to City or Poly, she would definitely get her share of ink," said Ryan, naming two of the four city public high schools that offer girls lacrosse. The others are Patterson and Western.
Streater registered eight points on four goals and four assists last season, when the Warriors managed just one victory. She hasn't scored this season.
"I knew the basics when I came here," said Streater. "The hardest skill is scooping the ball, because I've got this constant fear of someone blasting me from behind. That's how some of the guys feel, too."
And how do the guys feel about playing with a girl?
"We treat her like the rest of the team," said senior midfielder Antonio Williams, a four-year starter. "Everybody really has to prove themselves. She just had to prove she could hustle."
Opposing players treat her as an equal, as well - once they realize that through the disguise of pads and a helmet she's a girl. Said Forest Park coach Obie Barnes, "[My players] didn't take any exception to it. They didn't go after her viciously because she's a girl."
"I didn't even know she was on the field until the game was almost over," said Southwestern boys lacrosse coach Steven Simmons. "She wasn't nothing but another player to [my team]. She avoided a lot of contact, because she ... doesn't want to get hit by those guys. But my guys just go after her like she's another player."
Streater sees it differently. She says some of her opponents seem threatened by the presence of a girl on the field, as evidenced by the many hits she has absorbed.
"They're trying to kill me on the field," she said. "I just get up, shake it off, and go back into the game."
Streater's resilience and athletic background helped her improve. She plays volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter; she doubles up in lacrosse and badminton in the spring.
"She's a heck of an athlete," said Ryan. "She's going to mix it up with the guys. There's nothing that the guys do that she doesn't do. She wants in there. She's not getting a lot of time, and she's expressed some displeasure."
Streater is second off the bench for Walbrook.
"Last season, there wasn't any love with the team," said Streater. "This season, we care about each other, and we've got a lot of good players. We just go out there and give it to those boys."