The girls' Maryland & D.C. Lacrosse 2005 Black lacrosse team played its last game at the Galaxy National Championships on July 25, then gathered on the stadium field at Lehigh University to collect trophies and pose for photographs. It was a different field, different trophy and different picture, but the same result it has had all summer: a championship.
Thirty-one games. Thirty-one victories. Three championships. These 21 high school players, 12 from Howard County, had spent the summer competing against the nation's top club lacrosse teams without a loss, which no one -- not even players -- thought was possible.
"I think everyone on our team going into the summer thought we were going to be really good, but when you play so many games, you might lose a couple," said midfielder Cassie Krause, a senior at Mount Hebron who scored the winning goal with 30 seconds remaining in the 7-6 final over Long Island. "But we tried to stick together like a family and try to win every game."
And that's exactly what the team did in Bethlehem, winning nine games in 28 hours. The team also won two other prestigious lacrosse tournaments: the National Draw in New Jersey and the Vail Shootout in Colorado.
"We played them several times this summer, and each time we took the field knowing we were going up against the best team in the country," said Sue Chittim, who coaches Anne Arundel County's Chesapeake Club Lacrosse 2005 Black and is also the head coach at St. Mary's-Annapolis. "We never beat them, and it got frustrating playing them, but we wanted to play them as much as we could because you get better by playing teams that are better than you. And they were better than everybody."
Maryland & D.C. Lacrosse Club -- better known as M&D -- is just three years old but has emerged as one of the nation's premier club programs.
The program, which fields teams for players from seventh through 12th grade, was founded by Chris Robinson, the former Mount Hebron's girls' lacrosse coach, who had guided that team to five high school state titles.
Robinson's initial goal was simple: provide an offseason program where girls could practice for tournaments where they could be seen by college coaches. This was not a new concept. Chesapeake Club Lacrosse, Howard County's Hero's Lacrosse and Baltimore County's Sky Walkers were established local clubs that attracted top players, many from Howard.
"I thought that the kids in Howard County were falling behind because they were not getting that year-round instruction and experience kids in other counties were getting, and our goal at Mount Hebron was to always be on the cutting edge," Robinson said. "We wanted to have the same philosophy with M&D. We wanted to be the ones setting the pace."
After fielding four teams its inaugural season, M&D has experienced rapid growth, largely because of its national success.
More than 300 players from eight counties and the District tried out this spring, with 253 players making the club. Players are grouped by their year in school and are divided into two teams: an elite team -- called "black" -- and a second-tier team, referred to as "red".
"If you only play on your high school team, then college coaches don't have that much time to see you play because the college season and the high school seasons are at the same time," Robinson said. "So it's extremely important to play on a club team because that's when college coaches have the time to see you play, and most of the time you'll be going against other really good players, so you'll have the chance to get noticed. The way it seems to be going now, lacrosse is becoming pretty close to a year-round sport."
But being part of M&D lacrosse comes with a cost. The tryout fee is $50, and the club fee is $450, plus extra fees for each tournament. Robinson estimates the annual cost at $2,000 per player.
"I go to high school at River Hill, which is known for basketball and soccer but not lacrosse, which is what I want to play in college," said goalie Suzy Herlihy. "But by playing on M&D, I get to play with a lot of players from Mount Hebron, which is known as a lacrosse powerhouse. More college coaches will get to see me play, so it's totally worth it."
Coaches of Division I teams, including Maryland, Virginia, James Madison, Vanderbilt, Duke and Johns Hopkins, attend M&D Black 2005's games because it features some of the area's most talented rising seniors who aspire to play in college.
"This is where the kids get seen by college coaches, at these national tournaments," said Damian Blum, who spent about $1,000 this summer traveling with his daughter Aly, a senior defender at Glenelg. "The players get maximum exposure, and it really helps in getting recruited."
But with that exposure comes pressure, which is why M&D coaches make sure the players are not thinking about lacrosse 24 hours-a-day. In Colorado, team members went whitewater rafting and mountain biking when they weren't on the field.
"Most of the players on this team have known each other since we were in fourth or fifth grade, so we've grown up and are really good friends, which I think is a big reason why we play so well together," said midfielder Alex McClammer, a senior at Mount Hebron. "We all have the same goal, too, and that's to play Division I lacrosse."
And in the end, that's what it comes down to. M&D players acknowledged when they stepped onto the field, they knew they would be under the scrutiny of college coaches who will decide if they are good enough to get a free or discounted education.
"You look over on the sideline during a game, and you see all of the college coaches watching you, and it can be nervous because we're all on this team to get recruited and because we want to win," said attack Mary Clare Taylor, a senior at Mount Hebron. "It's sort of like we're auditioning for college coaches, but everyone on this team is unselfish and wants to do whatever they can for us to win."