Loudoun All-Stars lacrosse team members huddled together with their sticks held high into the waning twilight after Monday evening's practice in Leesburg.
With a steady stream of traffic and the faint glare of headlights a couple hundred yards away on Route 7, the players squished together to surround their coach in a quick cheer of "Be the best!"
For most of the players, such as Broad Run senior defender Paul Hagood, the Loudoun All-Stars present the best opportunity to hone their skills and increase their exposure to college recruiters.
To that end, the Loudoun All-Stars have been practicing for most of the summer in anticipation of this weekend's 15th annual Champ Camp in Baltimore. Champ Camp features more than 64 of the nation's top summer league lacrosse squads, including teams from traditional lacrosse powerhouses.
"The majority of these kids are seriously interested in playing lacrosse at the next level, whether that's at the [Division I college] level or D-II or D-III level or even club," Loudoun Coach Jay Harkey said. "One of the requirements I have for this team is that I want us to be competitive. I want to have the top players in Loudoun."
The majority of Harkey's hail from Loudoun Valley and Broad Run, two of the area's top public school lacrosse programs. Loudoun Valley won the Region II title this past spring, and Broad Run was the second-best team in the Dulles District. Others attend Highland or Notre Dame, each of which qualified for the private school state tournament.
Living in Loudoun or playing at a Loudoun-based school, however, is not a requirement for joining the Loudoun All-Stars. One of this year's All-Stars is Phil Keebler, a rising senior midfielder at Mount Carmel (Calif.) High School.
Keebler competed in last year's Champ Camp with an all-star team from northern California. When he learned the team would not be back this year and he would be attending lacrosse camps on the East Coast, his father contacted Harkey, a college roommate at the University of Maryland.
After learning Keebler was a highly regarded lacrosse player in California, Harkey welcomed him on the Loudoun All-Star roster.
"He is the only non-Loudoun County area resident, and I knew him through an acquaintance," said Harkey, who played lacrosse at the University of Maryland and graduated in 1984. "Once I heard he was an all-American, that pretty much did it for me."
Another All-Star is Connor Donovan, a rising senior goalkeeper at second-ranked lacrosse powerhouse Georgetown Prep. Donovan, who attended Loudoun Valley as a freshman and sophomore, said he hopes to compete for the Little Hoyas' starting position this year.
The level of competition is "good, and I like it," said Donovan, who said he has received recruiting interest from some of the top Division III schools. "There are some things here and there that we need to tweak and whatnot, but for the most part we're solid, and it's a good foundation to build on."
Building has been the highest concern for Harkey. The Loudoun team finished 27th at Champ Camp a year ago, and this season almost 50 players tried out for the team -- nearly twice as many as a year ago.
"If we can't be competitive out there I don't want to even go out there," Harkey said. "We're trying to raise Loudoun's cachet as a lacrosse area, and that's part of the reason we come out here and work so hard."