When she was 14 years old, Dana Dobbie read about the Maryland's women's lacrosse team in Sports Illustrated for Women. She decided right then that she wanted to play for the 10-time national-champion Terps.
That may have seemed a stretch for a girl from Ontario who didn't even know the women's game existed until she was 13. Not to Dobbie.
"Ever since then, I told my dad I wanted to play for the University of Maryland and he was just, 'Yeah, Dana. Go do it. If that's what you want to do, then that's what's going to happen."
She took a widely circuitous route riddled with injury, but Dobbie's dream came true this spring.
After two years at Ohio University, Dobbie, 22, arrived in College Park during the winter term and walked right into a tailor-made midfield role on a rejuvenated Terps team that will play today in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals against Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
"She came right in and had an immediate impact on the program," said Terps head coach Cathy Reese. "I think what's really unique about her is her attitude. She smiles all the time and she has one of these attitudes that life's great."
Life, indeed, is great for Dobbie, who honed her skills in boys box lacrosse and in the backyard going one-on-one with her older brother, Jason. Just getting back into the game was enough for Dobbie, who sat out most of the past two years to have reconstructive surgery on both of her ankles.
Her head still spins at being named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Trophy, to be awarded to the best player in the women's college game.
Back in 2003, everything was fine when Dobbie led Canada to a bronze medal in the Under-19 world championships at Towson University. She still wanted to play for Maryland, but unfamiliar with the college recruiting process, she had no idea how to get there, so she followed other Canadian national team players to Ohio.
Nagging ankle pain and recurring injuries relegated her to low attack and she was unable to finish either of her first two seasons. Still, she managed to score 71 goals in 25 games.
After her sophomore year in 2005, Dobbie was about to head for the senior World Cup at the Naval Academy with the Canadian national team when she found out she had been playing with torn ligaments in both ankles.
"The surgeon said that's very uncommon in someone at my age to come in with two torn ... like, broken, ankles," Dobbie said. "He was like, 'I don't know how you've been playing like this for a year and a half.' He said I had to have complete reconstructive surgery on both of them."
She said she begged him to let her play, but instead she had surgery on one ankle in May and had to watch from the stands as Canada played to a fourth-place finish.
In October, she had surgery on the other ankle. Forced to redshirt her junior year at Ohio, Dobbie began thinking about the next few years. She asked Ohio coach Kate Brew for a release and was granted one before the Bobcats' program folded last fall.
"I was thinking to myself, 'I need a fresh start. I need to start over and I want to finish my career the best I possibly can.'"
Dobbie was most interested in Maryland, but she also looked at Denver, where Reese and Jen Adams were coaching. By 14, Garry Dobbie said, his daughter had posters on her bedroom wall of Adams, the former Terps three-time national Player of the Year.
"I really wanted to play for a top team, but I was looking forward toward the next World Cup," she said, "and I knew the difference in my play was going to be the coaching."
She opted for Denver. That decision turned out to be fortuitous. When Reese and Adams took over at Maryland, Dobbie followed.
"I was so excited," Dobbie said. "Lacrosse that last year had been a down point and then all of a sudden, I felt like a 4-year-old kid again, so excited to go play."
Despite missing fall ball, she fit in right away.
"A lot of times people think it's going to be a big adjustment to come in midway through a year," said Maryland junior Kelly Kasper, "but with Dana, it was like we knew her forever."
Dobbie arrived with exceptional stick skills and a knack for controlling the draws. She is second on the team in scoring with 52 goals and 16 assists and leads the nation in draw controls with 75, but she had made the most progress on defense, where she didn't play much at Ohio.
"She's really proven herself," said Tracy Coyne, Notre Dame coach and former Canadian national team coach. "She has the size (5 feet 10) and the stick skills, and now she's surrounded by people who can help elevate her game. All the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place for her."