Few defenders in Division I women's lacrosse can catch Northwestern attacker Aly Josephs.
A blur of purple and black, the senior from Reisterstown relies on her speed to get a jump on opponents, including Dartmouth in last year's national final. She scored as many goals as the Big Green in the 7-4 win that gave the No. 1 Wildcats their second straight NCAA title and earned Josephs Most Valuable Player accolades for the game.
Heading into tomorrow night's American Lacrosse Conference tournament semifinal at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field, Josephs ranks fourth on the Wildcats' career goal-scoring list with 171.
All of that seems remarkable for a young woman who couldn't even stand until she was 15 months old.
At 6 months, Josephs was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, a congenital dislocation of the hip. To align the joint and force the leg bone and the hip socket to grow together properly, Josephs was restricted, for about nine months, to a molded-plastic harness that reached from her waist to the tops of her knees.
Her father, Marty, likened it to a saddle. She could crawl around in it, but she could not stand or walk.
"It was bad and we were worried about her," her mother, Lydia, said. "We never thought she would be able to run the way she does. When she came out of the harness, it was amazing to watch her stand up and take her first steps."
Josephs, 21, doesn't remember anything about those early months, but she does remember being the fastest student in her class at Franklin Elementary School, outracing all the boys.
Franklin Middle School teacher Dee Mullineaux, also the high school lacrosse coach, remembered Josephs being timed in the 50-yard dash when she was in sixth grade.
When Mullineaux heard her time, "I said, 'We've got to do this again. I don't think that's right,' because it was just so fast. We timed [her] again and it was the same."
During college recruiting, it wasn't just Josephs' speed that drew attention. A second-team All-Metro player at Franklin and a veteran of the Sky Walkers program, she had the skills and the savvy to match.
Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller didn't even realize how fast Josephs was when she recruited her.
"I knew she wasn't slow, but I was shocked at how fast she really was," Amonte Hiller said. "I think she's gotten faster and faster every year she's been here. She is by far one of the fastest attackers in the nation, very tough to stop."
In a sport that seems to get faster every year, Josephs said her speed is a "huge asset" in the midfield and on the attacking end. Her teammates help her exploit it.
"When I have the ball up top, my teammates clear through and I can beat my defender." said Josephs, a third-team All-American last season.
As the leader on a young line attack, Josephs has scored 36 goals for the Wildcats (15-1) this season. Opposing defenders really don't want to see her coming at them with the ball.
"She has no fear," said Maryland defender Becky Clipp, a friend and Catonsville graduate who played against Josephs in high school, too. "She just goes so hard, it's incredible. It's hard to stop her when she's going full speed on the field. She's by far one of the fastest people I've ever played against."
After this weekend's tournament, it will be on to the NCAA tournament and likely the final four Memorial Day weekend at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Then Josephs, a communications major and an Academic All-Big Ten selection, will set out for San Diego and a new career in sports management or public relations.
She has no doubt she will be at Franklin Field putting the finishing touches on a career that began with taking a chance on an up-and-coming program far from home.
"We're going to win three national championships, I'm very confident," Josephs said, "but I just feel we've achieved a lot. I feel like I've completed what I set out to do my freshman year."
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