With `grass all cut,' Brown grows into premier player

Girls lacrosse: City College's Erika Brown has gone from making excuses to avoid practice to leading the Knights to two city championships and becoming a Division I prospect.

High schools

April 02, 2000|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

As a freshman at City College, Erika Brown wanted to play lacrosse. She just didn't want to practice.

"My famous excuse was, `I can't come to practice because I have to go home and cut the grass,' " said Brown, now a senior. "Every other day, the grass had to be cut. I wouldn't come to practice."

Now, there are no excuses. Brown shows up every day for practice with the two-time defending Baltimore City champion Knights. She also puts in extra time honing her stick skills.

Each year, Brown's commitment to the game has become stronger. The more she dedicated herself, the more the rewards followed, including back-to-back City League Player of the Year nods from U.S. Lacrosse and the prospect of a Division I scholarship at Loyola or UMBC.

When did "cutting the grass" take a back seat to practice?

"After ninth grade," said Brown, who has emerged as one of the Metro area's most prolific scorers. Some of the Knights "played summer league and the following [school] year, we played indoor league. That's when I realized I really like this game and I'm pretty good at it."

In the city league, no one can compare with Brown. Last year, no other coach even nominated anyone else for the U.S. Lacrosse award. Brown was also selected for the Metro All-Star team that played the private school all-stars last June.

With a quick stick and an explosive first step, Brown has rolled up 180 career goals and 41 assists. Last season, she scored 81 goals. In two games this season, she has 11 as well as three assists.

"Her one-on-one play is very good," said Dulaney coach Franz Wittelsberger, who coached Brown in the Howard County Heros summer league. "She's got a quick move, going one way and coming back the other. She shoots well and she uses both hands well. She is really a natural."

In addition to her skills, Brown demonstrates an exceptional feel for the game, said Knights coach P. J. Kesmodel, who came to City three years ago after coaching Mount Hebron to four straight state titles.

"She makes really good decisions," said Kesmodel. "She really understands the game. Out of all the kids I've coached, she's probably the second-best decision maker next to Cathy Nelson."

Brown knows she has a long way to go to catch Nelson, an All-Metro Player of the Year at Mount Hebron, who went on to become an All-American at Maryland.

But Brown tries to model her game on smart, creative attack players such as Nelson and Gary Gait, both of whom she has worked with at camps. She works hard to emulate their style.

"P. J. always told me whenever you get a chance, pick up a stick and just play with it, even if you don't have a ball. I do that all the time," said Brown, whose workouts with a ball sometimes leave a trail. "I've broken three garage windows, my [bedroom] window twice and two lamps. I thought I was safe in the house -- I used a tennis ball."

It took Kesmodel a couple years to convince Brown that she also needed to start playing with better players. By her sophomore year, she could score at will against most of City's opponents. Knights practices have been little challenge.

Most of last summer, Brown played with and against All-Metro-calibre players. Twice, her Heros all-star team defeated the U.S. Under-19 team that went on to win the World Cup championship in September. Brown also played in the All-Star Express showcase for rising seniors and went to a Vail, Colo., tournament with a team of area teens coached by Kesmodel.

Those experiences gave her a taste of what she'll face in Division I ball.

"When I went to the Vail tournament, it was like I was at the top and now, all of the sudden, I'm close to the bottom. I think I can manage it pretty well. At Vail, I just tried to do my best, play like I normally play. It was actually easier, because I was getting nice crisp passes and I would throw the ball to people and they would actually catch it."

Kesmodel is convinced that Brown, who carries a 3.57 grade-point average and plans to become a veterinarian, is ready to make the commitment and that she can handle Division I.

"She'll get much better, because she'll be consistently playing against good people in practice and she's a bright kid. She'll learn and adapt. I believe by the time she's a junior or senior, she'll be able to contribute and people are going to say, `Where did this kid come from?' "

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