Mount Hebron High has set the standard for high school girls' lacrosse in Maryland. The Vikings have won six straight state championships and turned out numerous solid college players while dominating the sport at the precollege level in Maryland for the past dozen years.
Part of that success is breeding travel programs that are extending the sport's traditional spring season to a virtual year-round affair. Two of the programs are intended to teach girls the sport and to showcase the athletes to colleges, their leaders say.
The Hero's Tournament Lacrosse Club and M&D Lacrosse have their roots in Mount Hebron and Howard County. They represent a competitive, travel group that is building on the girls' work in the older Howard County Lacrosse Program, which, for more than 20 years, has been teaching the game to county boys and girls.
Hero's is the older of the advanced clubs. It was established in the 1970s as a summer league for boys; girls were added later. Recently, Hero's has developed a more competitive focus. It has sponsored four teams this summer and fall for high school girls and has former Mount Hebron coach P.J. Kesmodel on its board.
Each team of about 20 players has competed in five or six tournaments that began in June and will end Saturday with a 7-on-7 tournament in Annapolis.
The club's teams win often. Last summer, the combined teams were 95-9 in the Baltimore-Washington area, said President Steve Waagbo, of Ellicott City. They also won the Vail Lacrosse Shootout's high school division in Colorado.
Waagbo said that because of the increase in recruiting for women's college lacrosse in recent years, good high school players needed an opportunity to demonstrate their skills at an earlier age.
"It's hard for college coaches to see the players during their high school seasons," said Waagbo, whose daughter was Mount Hebron's leading scorer and The Sun's Howard County Player of the Year in the spring. "It puts an importance on these summer and fall tournaments. Coaches look at kids in the summer."
Scholarships are available, Waagbo and others familiar with the sport say, although neither organization guarantees placement and most players who do get aid receive partial help.
Chris Robinson, another former Mount Hebron coach who became a vice principal of the school this year, worked with Hero's for about five years but left about 16 months ago to form a travel club, called M&D - for Maryland and the District.
Robinson's program is similar in some ways to what Hero's offers, in that his teams also work outdoors from June through November. But M&D also will field nine age-group teams for indoor leagues this winter in Owings Mills and Rockville.
Robinson said M&D is starting with younger players, seventh-graders, as well as trying to reach farther into the mid-Atlantic area, including Northern Virginia.
"It's more than just a travel-tournament thing," Robinson continued. "That's certainly part of it, but ... we want them to learn, also." His teams practice or meet to talk about the sport on tournament-free weekends.
Robinson said M&D has been growing quickly, with 165 players and 11 coaches in the fold.
Many players in both programs began young in the sport through the Howard County Lacrosse Program, which had a record 1,700 players - boys and girls - competing at the recreational and travel levels this spring. Some of the girls play for one or the other of the two newer organizations and on HCLP's "Cobra" travel teams. HCLP also has travel teams - for boys and girls - in indoor play for this winter.
Some recruiting is occurring, Waagbo and Robinson acknowledged, but both say they want to keep the competition friendly.
"It will be very interesting to see how it works out, but there're so many players in the area who need places to play," Waagbo said.
Neither sees problems with programs the size of theirs co-existing in the same county. And Kathy Black, a former player who is now HCLP's girls travel coordinator, agreed.
"They're not draining off players from us," said Black, "because their programs pretty much pick up when we stop for the summer.
Loyola College associate head coach Kerri Johnson agreed with Waagbo and Robinson, saying that travel programs that extend the spring season are good for the girls and that Hero's and M&D should flourish.
Johnson also said that players who come from other areas can learn from what might be termed the "Mount Hebron way."
"I think it's a great opportunity for the high school players," she said. "It's not just show-up-and-play."