Players in demand Women's lacrosse: Driven Title IX, more colleges are turning to Baltimore to fill their rosters.

February 06, 1997|By KATHERINE DUNN | KATHERINE DUNN,SUN STAFF

When Jenny Slingluff set out to recruit players for the first North Carolina women's varsity lacrosse team, she headed straight for Baltimore.

With no high school girls lacrosse anywhere near Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels coach and Roland Park graduate knew exactly where to find athletes with well-developed skills. She now has 13 Baltimore-area women on her roster, including 10 on scholarship, as the Tar Heels head into their second varsity season.

Slingluff is not the only college coach scouring the Baltimore area for players.

North Carolina is one of 55 NCAA schools to add women's lacrosse in the past five years, as colleges and universities scramble to meet gender equity requirements. The NCAA is emphasizing that schools close the gap between their men's and women's athletic programs, in large part by offering more scholarships to women.

That gives local girls lacrosse players reason to celebrate on this 11th National Girls and Women in Sports Day. They are more in demand than ever.

Of the 92 seniors on teams ranked in The Sun's final Top 15 last spring, 73 percent are now playing in college. Of those in college, 45 percent received scholarship money.

"Right now, if you can play lacrosse fairly well and you're fairly athletic, chances are darn good that you'll get a scholarship," said Harvard coach Carole Kleinfelder, a former president of the United States Women's Lacrosse Association.

Although college women's lacrosse programs are popping up all over, expansion in high schools is not keeping pace geographically. For example, Duke, Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Stanford have added women's lacrosse in the past two years, but the USWLA reports no member high schools in North Carolina, two in Tennessee, 18 in Ohio and 16 in California.

Maryland, however, remains one of the fastest-growing areas in the country for high school girls lacrosse. This spring, 22 public schools will add teams, bringing the total to 87 of the state's 175 public schools. There also are 23 private schools in the Baltimore area offering the sport.

By the time they reach high school, many girls already have had several years of experience, thanks to the expanding number of youth programs. Baltimore is the only area of the country where girls can play year-round.

"Now, you have kids who've had a stick in their hand not since sixth grade, but since they were 6 years old," said Slingluff, 27, who led Virginia to a national championship in 1991. "It all goes back to the grass roots. A lot of moms are out there demanding that their little girls get the same opportunities that little boys have always had."

Similar things are happening in college. Backed by the federal government's requirements under Title IX, women's coaches and players are demanding the same opportunities that men have had.

"We have certainly cashed in on that," said P.J. Kesmodel, former Mount Hebron coach. In nine years, he has helped 23 Vikings players get lacrosse scholarships.

The demand for capable recruits is so high, two girls who played on top five teams last spring but never started received money to play in college.

Kesmodel, a guidance counselor who coached the Vikings to four state titles in seven years, said girls have a better chance to get scholarship money for lacrosse than for any other sport.

"When you look at the whole country, so many colleges are offering lacrosse while not as many high schools offer it compared to sports like basketball or soccer," Kesmodel said.

Over the years, Kesmodel has convinced some of the best athletes at Mount Hebron that lacrosse could lead them to a brighter athletic and academic future. One of those was Julie Kickham, now a freshman on scholarship at North Carolina.

Kickham, who began playing soccer at age 5, headed to Mount Hebron thinking only of a future in soccer. After a couple of years in lacrosse, her goal began to change.

"As I got into my junior year and started the process of looking at colleges, so many more opportunities opened up in lacrosse. Getting a [lacrosse] scholarship was definitely a factor in it, but .. more so the opportunity of getting into a top-quality school," said Kickham, who also visited William and Mary, Duke, Dartmouth and Princeton.

Kickham, who carried a 3.89 grade-point average last year and scored 1,360 on her Scholastic Assessment Test, was accepted at North Carolina based on her academics. However, some others are now getting into colleges that they might not otherwise because they play lacrosse.

That worries some high school coaches, including Garrison Forest's Micul Ann Morse.

"I think it skews the educational aspect of the sport and changes the emphasis of some parents and their kids and even some coaches," said Morse. "The product they're trying to come up with becomes more important than the educational process. So long as we remember that kids go to college for an education, it's a great opportunity, but education is supposed to come first at both levels."

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