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Trinity and Madison McPherson lived on three continents, crossed two oceans to play for Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse

Sisters Madison McPherson (30) and Trinity McPherson (29) star on defense for the Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse team.
Sisters Madison McPherson (30) and Trinity McPherson (29) star on defense for the Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse team. (James T VanRensselaer)

There is little argument that Trinity and Madison McPherson are two of the quickest members of the Johns Hopkins women’s lacrosse team. There is even agreement in the debate over which sister is swifter.

“I am faster, but we’ve said this before: she has a quicker first step than me,” Trinity, a senior defender, said. “So she might beat me initially, but in the long run, I am definitely able to overtake her.”

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Added Madison, a sophomore defensive midfielder: “I definitely think she is faster, but I will say that I have grown a lot in my speed. I think I could beat her initially with my start, but once we get into the strides, she’s got me.”

Speed isn’t the only thing the McPherson sisters have contributed to the Blue Jays, who are 4-5 overall and in the Big Ten after Wednesday afternoon’s 9-8 loss at No. 14 Maryland. Trinity leads the team in caused turnovers with 20 and ranks second in ground balls with 24, while Madison ranks third in ground balls with 14 and fourth in draw controls with 10.

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Although the McPhersons have not scored any goals or registered any assists, coach Janine Tucker credited the pair with helping improve the offense.

Johns Hopkins' Trinity McPherson, left, tries to catch a pass ahead of Navy's Meg O'Donnell during an NCAA tournament first-round game at Loyola Maryland's Ridley Athletic Complex.
Johns Hopkins' Trinity McPherson, left, tries to catch a pass ahead of Navy's Meg O'Donnell during an NCAA tournament first-round game at Loyola Maryland's Ridley Athletic Complex. (Steve Ruark / Baltimore Sun)

“I think their sheer athleticism and competitiveness drive our team to try to reach higher levels at every practice,” Tucker said. “Trinity finds herself on [senior attacker] Aurora [Cordingley] a lot, and Madison finds herself on [senior midfielder] Shelby [Harrison] a lot. So our offensive kids who you are seeing produce, I think that’s a direct correlation to them having try to beat Trin and Madison every day in practice. And I would say that Trin and Madison on that defensive side have elevated our offense because of their play.”

The McPherson sisters’ route to Homewood Field in Baltimore was unconventional, involving homes on three continents and crossing two oceans.

Their parents, James and Rebecca McPherson, are employees of the U.S. State Department. James is a public affairs officer, and Rebecca is the crisis management and support services specialist in the department’s Family Liaison Office. Since 2003, the family lived in Catonsville, and Trinity McPherson spent her freshman and sophomore years at Catonsville High School.

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In August 2015, the family, which also includes youngest sister Eden Cassidy, accepted an overseas assignment to Manila, Philippines. Two years later, Trinity enrolled at Johns Hopkins, and the rest of the family relocated to Lusaka, Zambia.

In both countries, Trinity and Madison played basketball and soccer and ran track, but lacrosse was a foreign concept. There was a local women’s college in Manilla that had a club team of which Trinity and Madison helped as volunteer coaches, but the McPherson sisters were very much on their own to hone their skills.

“It was literally just the two of us finding a patch of grass,” Trinity said.

Still, observers were intrigued.

“Everyone wanted to hold the sticks and learn what it was about, which was cool,” Madison said.

Before leaving for the Philippines, the McPhersons played club lacrosse for Sky Walkers, and Madison was communicating with Tucker and her staff. Trinity had initially committed in January 2015 to her father’s alma mater, Army West Point, but changed her mind. She turned her attention to the Blue Jays, but had to clear one hurdle: getting her sister’s approval.

Johns Hopkins' Madison McPherson keeps her eye on the ball as she is chased by Rutgers' Meghan Ball (4) and Cassidy Spilis (8) during a game at Homewood Field on April 11, 2021.
Johns Hopkins' Madison McPherson keeps her eye on the ball as she is chased by Rutgers' Meghan Ball (4) and Cassidy Spilis (8) during a game at Homewood Field on April 11, 2021. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“They were pretty far into the recruiting process with her,” Trinity said. “She was so far in their process with them that part of me even committing to Hopkins was making sure that it was OK with Madison.”

The gesture touched Madison.

“I think it was definitely a big point she was trying to make where she was like, ‘I don’t want you to feel like you’re in my shadow. I don’t want you to feel like I’m taking something away from you,’” she said. “So I was very grateful that she asked if it was OK with me, but I of course was like, ‘I would be honored to go to school with you. It would be an incredible experience.’”

Trinity committed to Johns Hopkins in November 2016, and Madison followed her one month later. The McPhersons’ lack of opportunities to hone their skills might have scared off some coaches, but not Tucker.

“Trin was a little more raw than Mads, but we were excited about the possibility because when you’re in the recruiting process, you’re obviously seeing what the kid has to offer in the moment,” she said. “But it’s truly more about what you anticipate and feel their progression can be. And because of the kind of young women that they are and the family they come from and how they were raised, that was what convinced us to say, ‘Hey, something good is going to come from these kids because they are going to work hard and they’re going to be invested in what we’re trying to accomplish.’”

Trinity McPherson made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2018, starting all 19 games and ranking third on that squad in both ground balls (33) and caused turnovers (20). And her family in Lusaka rarely missed a game.

Because of the six-hour time difference, some of the Blue Jays games ended after midnight. And because internet access is purchased monthly in allotments, the family limited any wanton use so that they could watch Trinity.

“It was the only way we could be involved,” James McPherson said. “All of us would stay up and watch the games. Madison was excited because she was watching the team she was going to play for, and we were excited because we were watching our daughter.”

The distance, however, proved too much for Trinity, who took a leave of absence in the spring of 2019 to reunite with her family in Lusaka.

“I had a couple difficulties mentally that I needed to work on,” she said. “So it was definitely in my best interest to be able to take a break from school and from lacrosse to go be with my family and work on myself to get back to a great place and come back for my junior and senior years.”

That summer, the entire family returned to Catonsville, and Madison joined her older sister at Johns Hopkins. The McPhersons played together in four games last spring before the season was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. Rebecca McPherson said she is thankful that the girls were not alone during that adverse situation.

“We felt like it was such a blessing to be able to be here and be together as a family,” she said. “It was great to have them home. It’s not the best circumstances, but the fact that we could be together more is a blessing.”

Trinity and Madison McPherson have a secret handshake they perform before the opening draw with Trinity staying on the field and Madison making her way to the sideline. But for the past three games, Madison has remained with her sister and the rest of the starters.

“I think it’s definitely a full-circle moment,” she said. “I think it was definitely a moment where I said, ‘OK, this is what I pushed myself. This is why I work hard.’ I wanted to be able to make the most out of these years with my sister.”

Despite skipping one semester, Trinity McPherson is on pace to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She said her time with the Blue Jays has been enhanced by her sister’s presence.

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“It’s something I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life,” Trinity said. “I couldn’t be happier. She is my favorite part of Hopkins.”

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Madison McPherson returned the favor, saying, “I obviously love Hopkins and I love being in Baltimore because this is near where I grew up, but my experience here without her would definitely be very different. Having someone who is such an incredible lacrosse player and also my best friend, she has pushed me in so many ways, and I would not be having the success on the field or in the classroom that I’ve had without her being there and being behind me.”

James and Rebecca McPherson said they are thankful for their daughters’ journey.

“This was in no way the plan,” James McPherson said. “Trin was supposed to be at West Point, Madison was going to who-knows-where, and it’s just amazing that we can be here and be along for the ride. It’s our faith, and it’s what we believe in, and God has just really smiled on us to allow this to be our situation. We understand there is good and bad that will come in our lives, and just for this moment, we’re enjoying it.”

JOHNS HOPKINS@NO. 17 PENN STATE

Sunday, 1 p.m.

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