When Penn State's women's lacrosse team upset No. 2 Florida on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Baltimore-area natives figured prominently, including St. Mary's graduate Steph Lazo with the game-winning goal in overtime.
Half of the Nittany Lions' starting lineup comes from the Baltimore suburbs and so does coach Missy Doherty, who played lacrosse at St. Mary's before helping Maryland to three national championships. When Doherty moved on from the head coaching position at Towson after seven seasons to take over Penn State in 2011, she retained a strong recruiting presence in the state. She has 14 players from Maryland — four more than from Pennsylvania.
"In Maryland, obviously, they start playing as soon as they can walk," Doherty said, "so the lacrosse IQ is high and knowing the skills of the sport is great. … I grew up in Anne Arundel County, so I'm more familiar with the schools and the area, so going from Towson to Penn State you bring that familiarity."
While Doherty also recruits heavily in the Northeast and has players from as far away as Georgia, Colorado and Texas, Baltimore players are often open to Penn State.
Some, like C. Milton Wright graduate Abby Smucker, whose parents went to Penn State, have family legacies. Some like a big-time football school. For many, the distance from home is just right. They want to go away to college, but not too far. State College is about a three-hour drive.
Fallston graduate Jenna Mosketti had been close to committing to Florida and her parents supported that decision, but they told her they wouldn't be able to continue coming to all her games.
"I didn't really think about that," Mosketti, a senior, said. "I realized I was such a homebody I would not have liked being in Florida, so this was the perfect decision. My freshman year was harder for me, because my family is super close, so I would go home too often, but it was nice."
Lazo and Madison Cyr, a Winters Mill graduate, played with their sisters for two years and that helped their transitions along with having so many other girls who played on the same or rival high school and club teams.
"It's cool when you have a little bit of back home with you," Cyr said. "You can go home and you see your teammates frequently and work out with each other, so that's really nice. And when you're here, everyone's from all kinds of different areas in Maryland, so it's nice hearing about where people are from, whether it's Annapolis, Severna Park, Fallston. They're all so different, but you can relate because they're close by."
Cyr, Lazo and Mosketti are among the team's top five scorers as the unseeded Lions prepare to host seventh-seeded Penn on Saturday at noon in their fourth trip to the NCAA quarterfinals in five years. South River graduate Madison Carter, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is tied for third in scoring.
Cyr, who leads the Lions with 55 goals and 21 assists, scored four goals in the 14-13 win at Florida while Mosketti, Lazo, Carter and Smucker scored one each. Erika Spilker (Severna Park) started on defense while Kayla Brisolari and Alexis Phillips (Archbishop Spalding) also got into the game.
The roster also includes Sarah Piazza and Maggie Gallagher (C. Milton Wright), Jane Truffler (Archbishop Spalding) and Shelby Wells (St. Paul's) as well as two other Marylanders, Madison Day (Leonardtown) and Delaney Muldoon (Holy Cross). Doherty's assistant coaches also went to local high schools — Amy Altig at Archbishop Spalding and Brooke Matthews at Friends.
While Doherty wouldn't call it a recruiting war with Maryland coach Cathy Reese, her former Terps teammate and a Mount Hebron graduate, both coaches are going after the area's top talent. The Terps, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, have 23 players from the home state.
"You want to be competing with the best in every respect, not just on the field," said Doherty, whose team lost to the Terps, 10-9, during the regular season. "If you're not competing against the best in recruiting as well, you're probably not competing as much on the field with those teams."