Stephy Samaras is the youngest of three sisters who starred in lacrosse at Annapolis High and on the Division I level.
Cory Samaras was a tough, aggressive defender with quick hands who wanted to check every player that crossed her path.
Cristi Samaras was an offensive dynamo – a magician with the wand and whirlwind of creativity.
Stephy Samaras studied both of her older sisters and tried to incorporate the best traits of each into her own game. She did so to great success – developing into a lockdown defender who could take the ball away, a force in the clearing game with her speed and athleticism as well as an effective offensive play thanks to strong stick skills and shooting ability.
“I always thought I was a good mix between the two of my sisters. I didn’t have the great takeaway ability Cory did, but I played better position defense and didn’t get beat,” Stephy said. “I didn’t have Cristi’s incredible stickwork, but I could definitely handle as well as any attacker.”
As a freshman at Annapolis High, Stephy played alongside her sisters when they were a senior and junior, respectively. Their cousins, Kate and Amy Brew, were also key players for the Panthers that season.
“Kate Brew was an amazing goalie and Amy Brew was a close second to Cristi as far as being able to score the ball,” Stephy said. “Kate would make a save and pass the ball to Cory, who passed ahead to Stephy, who cleared it and passed to Amy, who then passed to Cristi for the goal.”
Together, they helped transform Annapolis into one of the top girls’ lacrosse programs in Maryland under the direction of head coach Dave Gehrdes. Annapolis lost to perennial powerhouse Mount Hebron in the state finals in 1994 and 1995 before finally slaying the beast.
Stephy Samaras led the way as a senior captain as the Panthers captured their first state championships in 1996. Samaras made a savvy move by fouling Hebron leading scorer Kyle Rutkowski to prevent her from getting off a free position shot in the final seconds as Annapolis escaped with a 10-9 victory in overtime.
“I wrapped Kyle Rutkowski around my stick and got red-carded out of the game, but it was the smart play because it didn’t leave Mount Hebron enough time to score,” Samaras recalled.
“It’s a little surreal and exciting at the same time. Any time I can be associated with the level of play at which Cristi performed I am honored and humbled,” Stephy said. “I feel the same way about my mom, who has done so much for the sport of women’s lacrosse. I’m proud to be part of a Hall of Fame that includes them.”
Stephy Samaras was also different from her sisters in that she did not follow them to Princeton. Always head strong and independent, she chose another path by attending Virginia.
“People all assumed I would go to Princeton like my sisters. Being on my own and doing my own thing was a really big deal for me,” Stephy said. “I wanted to find out if I was a good player because of my own ability or because I always played with my sisters. I didn’t commit until April of my senior year because I couldn’t get up the guts to tell my parents I didn’t want to go to Princeton.”
In recognition of a decorated career at North County High, the Naval Academy and with the United States national team, Andy Ross will be inducted into the Chesapeake Chapter of US Lacrosse Hall of Fame this Thursday night.
Samaras became a three-year starter on defense at Virginia and was part of teams that lost to Maryland in consecutive national championship games in 1998 and 1999. She was a first team All-American as a senior in 2000 and was a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.
“So many little things made Stephy a great defender, player, teammate and person,” longtime Virginia head coach Julie Myers said. “Her passion, confidence and true love for lacrosse, teams and competition were the core of everything Stephy did and how she played.”
Myers, who is about to begin her 25th season at the helm, said Samaras remains one of the best one-versus-one defenders with a dangerous stick check that she has ever seen.
“Stephy’s timing, quickness and belief in herself pushed her to be in the position to take the ball away at any time,” she said.
Myers will never forget the NCAA semifinal game against Duke when Samaras checked the ball out of the stick of a top attacker to preserve a 9-8 victory.
“We all believed Stephy would not only make the stop, but she’d win possession of the ball and that she did,” Myers said.
By the time she was a junior at Virginia, Samaras was taking draws and being inserted on offense once the ball was settled. She was among the leading scorers for the Cavaliers as a senior.
“Julie had me emulate the opponent’s best attacker in practice – great players like Cristi and Maryland’s Jen Adams – so I asked her one day why I wasn’t playing attack,” Stephy recalled.
Myers acknowledge the rarity of having a starting defender double as an attacker and noted there was no way to keep Samaras out of the offensive end.
“In her mind and heart, Stephy was a middie that played defense the majority of the time. Her game sense and stick-skills were exceptional, and she understood every position and how the entire field worked and connected,” Myers said.
Caitlyn McFadden Phipps, who is married to Chesapeake Bayhawks goalie Brian Phipps and resides in Annapolis, was a fitting choice to represent the Maryland Terrapins as a member of the 2020 Chesapeake Chapter of US Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Just minutes before Virginia played Princeton in 1999, Myers informed Stephy Samaras she would be covering her older sister. Cristi Samaras had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament at Klockner Stadium while playing in an exhibition for the United States national team and remarkably her first game back after recovering came on the same field.
Cristi scored a couple goals in unsettled situations, while Stephy recalls checking the ball out of her sister’s stick at least once. That contest went into triple-overtime and at one point the two sisters had to be separated after getting into a verbal altercation while crossing paths on the way back to their respective benches.
“It was a horrible experience and I just remember that game being very stressful,” Stephy said.
Cristi Samaras believes her baby sister was the most athletic member of the family – a natural in terms of body mechanics with a high sports IQ to along with.
“Stephy’s brain is wired to anticipate, which made her an incredible defender. Her brain understands how to create, which made her dominate the offensive transition,” Cristi said. “She is interested in efficiency (and rest), which made her an effective scorer. She also had a knack for understanding competitive play and for figuring out how to get the edge.”
Stephy Samaras jokes that she knew she would get into coaching after receiving an urgent phone call from Myers stating she could not practice until declaring a major. She hastily chose anthropology.
“Obviously, the last thing I was going to do after graduating college was be an anthropologist,” Samaras said.
Actually, Samaras had grown to love coaching while working Maryland women’s lacrosse camps every summer. She routinely conducted demonstrations alongside the legendary Gary Gait, who was an assistant for the Terrapins at the time.
“I’ve always been a person who could connect with kids. I could get on their level and build relationships,” said Stephy, who joined Cristi as an assistant at Yale under head coach Amanda O’Leary in 2001. “I was basically the defensive coordinator for a Division I program my first year out of college.”
Samaras became the first full-time head coach at Quinnipiac in 2003 and later spent three years in the same position at Richmond. She moved back to Anne Arundel County after getting married and having children and is entering her third season as head coach at Annapolis High.
“Stephy’s weapon is a keen understanding of the rules of the game and an uncanny ability to design the best ways to use the rules to her team’s advantage,” Cristi Samaras said. “She is a master of this game inside and out. As a coach, she can breakdown any opponent’s systems, players and special teams.”
What: Chesapeake Chapter of US Lacrosse Hall of Fame Banquet