March 14, 2014
GREENBELT, Md. - Maryland does so much more than just crab cakes and football as the often-quoted line from the movie "Wedding Crashers" goes.
The Old Line State is known for being the home of Fort McHenry whose siege in 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner." Maryland is also famous for the Preakness Stakes, black-eyed Susans, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Ocean City's beaches, Annapolis' colonial charm, Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Cal Ripken, the B&O Railroad, beltway traffic jams, "Maryland, My Maryland" and a distinct state flag.
Maryland is also known for lacrosse. Not only is lacrosse the official team sport of the state, but lacrosse is also the sport its citizens are the most passionate about and identify themselves with.
"Lacrosse is definitely important to the culture of Maryland," sophomore Hannah Hartman from Cockeysville said. "Whenever you drive anywhere during the spring and early summer, you are bound to pass a lacrosse game. Maryland is full of single-sex private schools that love rivalry and lacrosse. After our practices and games, my teammates and I would go directly to the boy's schools to support our friends in their games."
"It starts to be competitive at such a young age that it isn't strange to start playing at age four before you learn how to do ride a bike to be honest," sophomore Danielle Lukish from Lutherville said of how her home state ingrains the game in you as a near-birthright. "By the time you get to high school, this competitiveness only grows stronger because all the high schools, regardless of if they are public or private, have amazing teams that are ranked in the top 100 schools for lacrosse in the country."
The end result of this is more than simple stick skills to senior captain Margaret Smith of Westminster.
"Youth lacrosse in Maryland focuses on teaching and playing at a fast pace," she said. "Having a high lacrosse IQ is important and being from Maryland promotes that."
There are many advantages to having seven student-athletes from the same state for the Irish and more on the way. While other pockets of the country will beg to differ over which region is truly number one, Maryland does produce a number of the sport's top athletes on an annual basis, has for decades and will continue to into the future. Notre Dame may have a more national recruiting base than most of the country's universities, but it will always make repeated stops in Maryland on its recruiting tour and for very good reasons.
Not only does this plethora of Marylanders help the team on the field, but it can make a difference for the life of the student-athletes off of it as well. Freshman Grace Muller from Ruxton found that the roster's Old Bay seasoning-loving new-found friends from home helped ease her transition to college this year.
"It definitely helps having so many Maryland people from a social standpoint, simply because it adds a level of familiarity in a brand new environment," Muller said. "Everything is so new freshman year - new school, new team, new coaches, new friends - that having people from home on the team, people you knew before you came to Notre Dame, provides an easy yet important relaxed feeling during such a big transition."
Fellow freshman Hannah Rees of Sykesville agrees completely with her former McDonogh School teammate.
"I love having so many Notre Dame teammates from Maryland," she said. "Coming in as a freshman it was nice knowing a senior on the team, Margaret Smith from my high school, and also a fellow freshman, Grace Muller from the same high school as well. It is also fun having so many Maryland teammates because over breaks we get to do workouts together and hang out with each other and all of our families."
It does say something that Maryland has designated lacrosse as the state's official team sport. Believe it or not, the official sport of the state of Maryland is jousting. In terms of overall popularity, the state's official team sport has in many ways taken a 10-foot lance to the state's official individual sport, however. Years of growing up playing lacrosse as opposed to non-NCAA sponsored jousting certainly makes them better components of the Irish roster when they get to South Bend and assimilate with equally talented players who come from Long Island, New England, and other regions of this vast country.
"Our `Maryland' style of play coupled with all the other styles on the team allows us to have the best of all worlds making us such an eclectic team where our opponents are never going to know what they're going to come up against," said senior captain Molly Shawhan.
The U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame can be found in Maryland (Baltimore to be exact). Likewise, any list of the most accomplished players in Notre Dame's women's lacrosse history would feature plenty of Marylanders, including recent IWLCA first-team All-America selections Shannon Burke (2009) and Jackie Doherty (2011). Smith was a third-team All-America pick in 2012. It is no wonder that they have been successful at a school like Notre Dame with their background.
"One of the biggest strengths of Notre Dame is the ability to recruit from anywhere, Maryland, New York, Texas, Minnesota, you name it," as Muller explains. "That being said, there is a large presence of Maryland players on our team. Notre Dame's combination of highly physical yet also highly skilled lacrosse allows Maryland players to come in and be successful. Maryland players tend to have a more finesse based game which translates well to Notre Dame's style of play."
"ND blends the experience of Marylanders with the pure athleticism of other areas in the United States," Hartman said. "Us Marylanders who were born playing lacrosse can learn from the raw talent of those girls from other areas. This mix allows for everyone to play their role and create a successful team."
The pride that Notre Dame's native Marylanders have for their home state is palpable. Shawhan even went so far as to boast that it has the country's best pizza, a claim that the culinary community (not to mention her teammates from New York and Chicago) would disagree with, but one that reflects a continued affinity for her home state.
It is always nice to sometimes visit home too and be amongst your personal preference in pizza. Shawhan's family hosted a team dinner on Thursday night at their home in Fulton. Like each of her Old Line State teammates, she is expecting a large crowd of family and friends to come see her and the Irish on Saturday afternoon.
Sophomore midfielder Brie Custis is another of Notre Dame's Maryland contingent who will have "a ton" of familiar faces in the stands. A Salisbury native from the state's eastern shore, Custis and her family just might embody the passion for playing the sport more than her teammates who generally grew up in the sport's cradle along the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
"Being from the eastern shore of Maryland, about two-plus hours from Baltimore, lacrosse was not always easy," lamented Custis who has clearly found her calling in the Irish midfield this spring. "Traveling became a job as I played over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. But, it was never a hassle because the style and competitive play of lacrosse in Maryland is incomparable."
Ultimately, what makes it all work so well for players from the Old Line State is simply that, for whatever reason, lacrosse happens to be the game that became ingrained into the state's culture long ago. A Texan may have a predisposition to put on a football helmet and a Wisconsinite may tend to grab a hockey stick, but there is just one essential piece of sporting equipment to add to the spitting image of a stereotypical Marylander.
"Since we started playing at such a young age, I like to think we are very experienced and talented," Hartman said. "We all spent so much time ripping shots in the back yard and just walking around with our sticks, that Marylanders are just comfortable with the stick in our hands."
"Youth lacrosse starts at just the right age in my opinion in Maryland," said Custis. "They don't start you too early to get sick of it but they start you early enough to get good. Every child really loves the sport the minute they start it because their parents played or their friends play or their siblings played. Lacrosse is associated with family which makes is special."
Hundreds of members of those Notre Dame player families will be in College Park on Saturday watching their relative play for the blue and gold. High school coaches and teammates will be there watching their friends and former teammate play for the Fighting Irish. Impressionable children will be there watching a collection of student-athletes, hailing from both Maryland's borders and beyond, who can serve as tremendous role models as they receive one of the country's best educations while playing for one of the country's best lacrosse teams at one of America's most nationally prominent schools.
There are 33 Notre Dame student-athletes who have made this trip to Maryland. Saturday's top-10 showdown between No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 2 Maryland is the first-ever matchup between the two schools. While all 33 appreciate the importance of this (or any) ACC contest, seven of the Fighting Irish players know the realm that the team enters tomorrow and its culture better than others, taking to the field back home in the land of crab cakes, football, and, yes, lacrosse too.