Women’s lacrosse Final Four: Maryland’s Sarah Mollison arrives just in time


Maryland women's lacrosse player Sarah Mollison, who has scored 97 points this year, played for Australia in the 2005 World Cup in Annapolis. (Toni L. Sandys/WASHINGTON POST)

It’s a really long story, warns Maryland women’s lacrosse player Sarah Mollison, when asked earlier this week to explain the process that brought her from Melbourne, Australia to College Park.

Her journey, which involved a two-year wait as the NCAA clearinghouse determined which of her credits from Australia could transfer, didn’t end even after she arrived on campus in January 2008.

The NCAA “didn’t accept my physical education, which is like an introduction to kinesiology here,” said Mollison, the 2011 ACC player of the year. “So I got into a kinesiology class here and I was like ‘Are you kidding? I already learned this stuff and you didn’t even accept it.’ ”

Mollison’s hassles in the classroom could end in grand fashion this weekend in the NCAA women’s lacrosse semifinals and final in Stony Brook, N.Y. The defending national champion Terrapins face Duke in Friday’s first semifinal, followed by North Carolina against Northwestern.

To figure out just how No. 1 Maryland has re-emerged as the pre-eminent program in women’s lacrosse, those within the program say look no further than the determination exhibited by Mollison this season, and throughout her career.

A 24-year-old senior raised in Melbourne, Mollison leads this year’s Terrapins with 97 points and 45 assists, which rank third and fourth nationally, respectively. Just last weekend, she moved into fifth place on Maryland’s career points list

Perhaps more significantly, Mollison has continued a recent trend of talented women’s lacrosse players who have turned into prolific collegiate players after arriving from Down Under.

The NCAA career scoring leader is former Maryland star Jen Adams, an Adelaide, Australia native who is the head coach at Loyola.

“The Australian players are coming over here to play everywhere,” Maryland Coach Cathy Reese said. “It’s a club sport over there, so if they want to play at the highest level, they come to the U.S. and compete in colleges. We’ve had amazing players here in the U.S. and you’ve seen maybe 10 of the best players from Australia.”

Mollison first caught the attention of former Maryland coach Cindy Timchal during the 2003 under-19 World Cup, which took place in Towson, Md. By the time Mollison became the second-youngest member of Australia’s senior national team that won the 2005 World Cup in Annapolis, a plan was in place for her to enroll at Maryland in August following the conclusion of the tournament.

If only it were that simple.

Her enrollment was delayed initially while the NCAA determined how to transfer Mollison’s credits from the Australian high school system to the American school system. She also had to take the SAT, a test not routinely administered in Australia.

Then the NCAA changed its core requirements midway through the process, and some of Mollison’s credits were not accepted. As a result, she was forced to go to another year of prep school in Australia. Twenty-eight months later than expected, she was finally granted a student visa and arrived on Maryland’s campus in time for the spring 2008 lacrosse season.

“I just had to somehow find the strength to keep trying,” Mollison said of the wait. “It was frustrating, but at the same time I was like, ‘No, you’re not going to give up.’ It took awhile, but I finally got here and got to play.”

Though she’s a three-time all-ACC attacker, Mollison’s talents have never been in more demand than this season. Maryland, winners of a record 10 NCAA tournaments in women’s lacrosse, saw its hopes of a repeat take a sizable blow in late March when last year’s leading scorer, Karri Ellen Johnson, suffered a concussion that she has yet to return from.

Reese credits Mollison with keeping the team together and pushing others to raise their level of play, the sort of resolve that was on display this week during practice.

While the rest of her teammates were laughing as Reese sang along to the Wilson Phillips song “Hold On,” Mollison stood in the back, emotionless and staring at the ground, her thoughts inevitably drifting to the final weekend of a college career that is close to six years in the making.

“I came here a year or two older than the girls in my class, and I think I matured and appreciate it a little more doing things a little bit differently,” said Mollison, who will graduate on time in December. “I don’t regret it, and I’m kind of happy with the way it all worked out.”

Mark Giannotto covers high school sports for The Washington Post.
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