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Former McDonogh lacrosse star Jessica Morgan modest about induction into local Hall of Fame

George Mason women’s lacrosse coach Jessica Morgan, a former star at McDonogh and Virginia, is part of a nine-member class to be inducted Saturday night into the Greater Baltimore Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame.
George Mason women’s lacrosse coach Jessica Morgan, a former star at McDonogh and Virginia, is part of a nine-member class to be inducted Saturday night into the Greater Baltimore Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of George Mason Athletics)

Jessica “Jessy” Morgan’s list of contributions to women’s lacrosse is long and prominent: a highly touted prospect at McDonogh, a three-year starter at Virginia and a member of the 2004 NCAA championship team, a two-time member of the United States developmental squad, and coach at Howard and now George Mason.

But in her typical humble manner, Morgan, 33, is self-deprecating about her induction into the Greater Baltimore Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Martin’s Valley Mansion in Cockeysville.

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“I’m a defender. I can’t do anything successfully without the people who put the ball in the net,” she said Wednesday. “I’m just a low man on the totem pole, just a happy-to-be-here kind of thing. But I’m so thankful that people acknowledge my hard work. I wasn’t even a lacrosse player in high school. So to have come this far and played for the U.S. and have a career in lacrosse now, I feel like it’s an accomplishment, but it’s not my own accomplishment. It’s because other people have believed in me and gotten me here and given me an opportunity. I’m just fortunate.”

Josh Sims, who excelled at every level of the sport, headlines a list of six inductees into the Chesapeake Chapter of US Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Former goalies Charley Toomey and Jack Schofield along with women's lacrosse standouts Andrea Holthaus, Kate Graw and Megan Riley will also be enshrined.

Morgan is part of a nine-member class to be recognized Saturday. She will be joined by Joseph L. Fowlkes II, a three-time All-American attackman at Morgan State; Joanna Lignelli, national sales director for STX Lacrosse; Kevin Mahon, a Johns Hopkins goalkeeper who helped the program capture its first NCAA championship in 1974; Mary Key Parme, a four-time All-American attack at Johns Hopkins; Jacqueline Seboda Pfeiler, a Hall of Fame attacker at UMBC; Wick Sollers, a three-time All-American attackman at Princeton; Mitchell Whiteley, a former boys lacrosse head coach at St. Paul’s; and Gail Decker-Wittman, a two-time All-American attack at James Madison.

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Bobbie Bardzik, a member of the foundation’s board of directors and the Hall of Fame coordinator, said Morgan’s induction was unanimous and that she stands out for being an advocate for the sport as much as for her accomplishments as a player and coach.

“I even coached a clinic with her a couple years ago with the One Love Foundation, and that was her devoting her time on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon and going out there and coaching clinics for girls,” Bardzik said. “It was freezing, but she was out there with a smile on her face the whole time and loving every second of it.”

George Mason women’s lacrosse coach Jessica Morgan, a former star at McDonogh and Virginia, is part of a nine-member class to be inducted Saturday night into the Greater Baltimore Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame.
George Mason women’s lacrosse coach Jessica Morgan, a former star at McDonogh and Virginia, is part of a nine-member class to be inducted Saturday night into the Greater Baltimore Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of George Mason Athletics)

Morgan’s introduction to lacrosse came in the seventh grade when her friend’s aunt happened to be longtime St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School coach Kathy Jenkins, who gave her a lacrosse stick. Kimberly Dubanksy, who was a freshman for McDonogh when Morgan was a senior, said Morgan’s intensity was her biggest strength.

“She was very competitive but simultaneously a jokester,” Dubansky, who now coaches the girls lacrosse team at Maryvale Prep, wrote via email. “You never knew which mood she was going to be in — serious and fiercely competitive or cracking jokes. She was unafraid to let her views be known and her uniqueness shine.”

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Morgan parlayed a successful career at McDonogh into an avenue to the Cavaliers, who she helped capture three Atlantic Coast Conference titles and advance to three NCAA tournament finals.

In her senior year in 2007, Morgan read “The Secret,” a self-help book that emphasizes the power of positive thinking. She shared the book with her teammates before the postseason, and Virginia coach Julie Myers credits the book’s theory with helping the players turn a nine-goal halftime deficit into a 14-13 win over Duke in the national semifinals.

“Reading that book was kind of that underlying connection through all of them,” Myers said. “When most teams would have panicked — and I’m sure some of us did — we still linked together, and we found the good things we were doing, and we found one opportunity on top of the next. That was a seminal moment in terms of knowing that this could be a powerful book in life.”

Two players for the professional San Diego Seals lacrosse team had to be rescued by lifeguards after jumping into the ocean off Sunset Cliffs

While that victory is one of her most vibrant memories, Morgan — one of four African-American female head coaches at the Division I level, along with Delaware State’s Kari-Lei Berry, Longwood’s Elaine Jones and Cincinnati’s Gina Thomas (Oliver) — said the sport has not had the kind of reach she had hoped for among players of color.

“I really don’t see the type of growth that some people might be saying is occurring,” said Morgan, who wrote a blog in February 2017 for the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association recounting her experiences and obstacles as a young black player. “I can go to tournaments and still only see one little brown girl. I would think by now there would be way more people involved, and I’m not even talking about brown girls. I’m talking about Jewish girls or Asian girls. Where is the diversity in the sport? I think we still have a long way to go, in my humble opinion.”

Bardzik, the Hall of Fame coordinator, pointed out that Morgan has worked with both the Charm City Youth Lacrosse League and Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership.

“She has done an incredible amount for the African-American lacrosse community, and she’s a huge advocate for them,” Bardzik said. “So of course we want to honor her and her hard work and dedication. And it does inspire others. I would hope that she would inspire anyone, not just African-American girls.”

Myers said Morgan is a role model for others.

“It is always fun to see any woman, any minority just find her way, grow up and rise to the top, and I think Jessy did that her way in her timeline, and I think the sky’s the limit,” she said. “I think she has so many more things she’s going to do in life, and it’s always going to come with a sense of humor and an energy that is unmatched by other people.”

That energy might be on display during Morgan’s induction speech Saturday night. She said she tends to laugh when she gets nervous and that she’s slightly uneasy about dressing formally for the event. She fired a preemptive volley for the audience that will listen to her speak.

“I hope they’re not expecting an Oprah speech,” she quipped. “It’s going to be me thanking everybody and hoping that everybody has a great night. I’m excited that they’ll show up and I appreciate their support, but I don’t want to be very wordy and be up there forever. … I’m just going to take it slow and enjoy the night. You don’t really have moments like this in your life very often. You have a wedding, you have this and you have maybe a funeral, and you don’t really get to enjoy that. So I’m just going to enjoy this.”

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