When Christian Carr stepped on the field for her team's first game at the National Draw girls' lacrosse tournament last Saturday, the St. Mary's senior attacker was nervous.
She was confident that her Chesapeake Black 2006 team, composed of some of the county's top rising seniors, would play well against Team Impact, a club team from Connecticut. What made Carr uneasy wasn't who her team was playing, but who was watching.
"I looked at the sidelines and there were all of these college coaches ready to see us," she said. "It was totally nerve-[racking]. You just try to do your best, but you're also hoping you don't mess up."
The National Draw is regarded by many coaches as the nation's most prestigious high school club lacrosse tournament, and there were 100 teams from across the country competing in the varsity division last weekend. But for many girls such as Carr, the tournament was also about making a good first impression on the more than 70 college coaches in attendance.
Though NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from speaking to the players at the event, coaches used this past weekend to scout players before deciding which ones to call on July 1, the first day they are allowed to talk to rising seniors.
"I think a lot of players get scared, and it's natural, because they've wanted to play Division I lacrosse since they were little girls and now they are playing in front of college coaches," said St. Mary's Coach Sue Chittim, who coaches Chesapeake Black 2006. "They see all the coaches wearing their school's colors all over the place and that puts pressure on them. But I tell them to try to ignore them and just focus on playing their best, and once they get in the game, they are pretty good about it.
"But when they are not playing, that's when they start looking around and getting nervous."
Chittim thought her team gave the college coaches a good performance, despite being eliminated in the quarterfinals, 6-3, by eventual champion Skywalkers Blue 2006, the top club team from Baltimore. Chesapeake Black 2006 won its pool with a record of 3-1 and won its first-round playoff game, 7-4, against a team from Long Island, with coaches from Maryland, Duke and Brown watching less than 20 feet from the bench.
"We just blocked everything out and played as hard as we could the whole tournament," said All-Met midfielder Allison Perkins, who attends St. Mary's. "But to lose to Skywalkers, [which] is one of our biggest rivals, is tough. It's like losing during the high school season to Severn."
Of the 21 players on Chesapeake Black 2006, 20 attend either St. Mary's, Broadneck, Severn, South River, Spalding or Chesapeake, and each is among the best players at her high school. After trying to beat each other during the high school season, they put rivalries aside to earn victories and, hopefully, a scholarship at the college of their choice.
"Everyone needs the exposure to college coaches, and since we have so much talent on our team, we really tried hard to play together," said All-Met Bretton Bathras, who attends Severn. "We all have the same goal, and that's to play in college."
And that's where Chittim comes in. Before the tournament, Chittim had her players write down the top five colleges they want to attend; then she made an effort to speak to each coach face to face on her player's behalf.
After Chesapeake Black 2006 clinched its pool with a 15-1 victory over a club team from Baltimore, she gave her team a one-hour break. But Chittim spent the time talking to Stanford Coach Michele Uhlfelder, and then to Maryland Coach Cindy Timchal.
"I want to make sure those coaches know how interested my girls are," said Chittim, who estimated she talked with more than two dozen college coaches. "You see how much the sport has grown on the high school level, and there are a lot more high school players than scholarships available. I talk to coaches about all my girls because they understand that to play in college, you have to be wide open on where you want to go."
The National Draw was just one of several tournaments on the Chesapeake Black 2006 summer schedule. The team will see many of the same opponents this weekend, when it competes in the Vail Shootout in Colorado, before heading to Kent Island High School in Stevensville, Md., July 15-17 for the All-Star Express, which features 210 teams and is billed as the "biggest women's tournament on the planet."
"I think with each tournament we play, the better we are going to get," Carr said. "We hoped to do better at the National Draw, but I'm glad we came. I love playing in these big tournaments."