Hannah Dudley never imagined that lacrosse would take her this far.
A senior midfielder at Concord-Carlisle Regional, she is headed to Stanford University this fall to play a sport she never thought would be “the ticket to her future.”
She started playing for the Revolution Lacrosse program as an eighth grader. Prior to her sophomore year at C-C, she sat down with her club coaches and made a list of the schools that she thought she might be interested in attending.
“They sat me down and said, ‘Alright, let’s take the next step, where do you want to go?’, and I thought, ‘I’m so young,’ ” recalled Dudley, now 18.
“This was basically going to decide the next part of my life even though it was still a couple years away.”
NCAA regulations prohibit college coaches from making direct contact with potential recruits until Sept. 1 of their junior year. Often, the club program serves as the conduit to push the process along.
“It’s a triangular effect,” she said. “College coaches talk to club coaches and then my club coach tells me to call them.”
Over winter break of her sophomore year, Dudley and her parents were on a plane to San Francisco so she could attend the Stanford girls’ lacrosse camp and experience the life of a student-athlete.
Early on, Dudley wanted to study on the East Coast, but she left Palo Alto thinking to herself, “Oh shoot, I really like it here.”
After another overnight stay at Stanford and attending camps at a number of Ivy League schools — Yale, her parents’ alma mater, along with Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth — Dudley made her decision in June. She chose the Cardinal, and the West Coast. She had just completed her sophomore year.
“In the end, it came down to a gut feeling about where I would feel the most comfortable,” she said. “It ended up being 3,000 miles away but I am really excited, and my parents are really excited.”
Initially, her mother had reservations about the distance.
“I felt comfortable with it as soon as I saw she felt comfortable with it,” said Jessica Dudley, who played lacrosse at Yale, a school that was on her daughter’s list until the end. Her husband, Andy, played football at Yale.
“We would have loved to see her play at Yale, but we wanted her to go where she wanted to go.”
Since she made her verbal commitment two years ago, the 6-foot Dudley has developed into one of the best players in the state. A year ago, she was a first-team All-American after powering Concord-Carlisle to the Division 1 East title with 60 goals, 82 assists, and 111 draw controls. She also carries a 4.0 grade point average.
Her teammate at C-C, senior midfielder Madeline Leahy, made a commitment to not only play lacrosse, but to serve her country. She will attend the United States Military Academy at West Point next year. The Black Knights just became a varsity program this season.
“I was very interested in being in the military and I reached out to them,” said Leahy. “When I learned that I could play lacrosse there it really just sealed the deal. Every day is going to be a marathon, but I am really looking forward to it.”
Concord-Carlisle coach Paul Morrison has seen his program grow in its ability to produce Division1 college recruits.
“Lincoln-Sudbury has kind of set the bar over the years with sending girls to Division 1 [programs],” said Morrison of the Dual County League rival.
“It’s a very competitive league and nowadays so many girls play club lacrosse,” said Morrison. “Girls are playing club just to make their varsity teams because it is so competitive.”
L-S senior goalie Makayla Ward has committed to the University of California. For her, the process started her sophomore year, while playing for Mass. Elite Lacrosse.
“At first it is overwhelming but my coaches really helped me out. They told me it was in my hands and would go at my pace,” said Ward. “They have worked with so many top tier players that they know the process.”
A number of Division 1 programs have their recruiting classes lined up for the next three years.
Lincoln-Sudbury sophomores Izzy Ross (Georgetown) and Kylie Cadogan (Boston University) have already made verbal commitments. joining the growing number of athletes committing to a college before getting a learner’s permit. Seniors Katherine DeFreitas (BU) and junior Courtney Quirk (Colgate) will play Division 1 too.
“It only takes one kid and one school to commit earlier than everyone else and the next thing you know the stress level rises,” said L-S coach Bowen Holden.
“Parents feel that their kids need to commit and college coaches start to stress about losing out on kids.”
Holden, a former player at Georgetown who coached at her alma mater as well as Boston College and with the US women’s national team, said she tries to prepare her athletes for the rigorous process as best she can.
“I don’t think any one of my kids ever felt pressure to make a decision,” said Holden.
“They did their homework, they made education decisions and all of the coaches and programs that they committed to were good about giving them the necessary time to make those decisions.”
Lukas Cash founded the Revolution Lacrosse program in 2003. At the time, only senior girls were receiving seious consideration from college coaches. Now, he is routinely fielding calls from coaches who want to know about the program’s eighth grade and freshman classes.
“They have to win, so they are looking at kids that are going to help them win and the idea of development is going out the window,” said Cash, whose program has helped over 550 girls play lacrosse in college.
“In a perfect world it would slow down, but I don’t think it will, so we try to just focus on development. If the athletes do their job, we will find them a home. For Hannah, she gets to go to one of the best colleges in the world, it’s a dream come true.”
Five high school girls’ lacrosse programs to watch this season (last year’s final record listed):
■ Acton-Boxborough (14-3-1): Sophomore Emma Kearney fired in 60 goals her freshman year. Junior Julia Neyland (46 tallies last season) is a threat too. A-B already owns a 10-7 win over Dual County League rival Concord-Carlisle.
■ Dover-Sherborn (16-5-1): The Raiders are led by a junior core fronted by Emma White, who moves up to the midfield after scoring 20 goals from the back last season. Senior captain Lizzie Simms anchors a strong defense.
■ Franklin (15-5): The Panthers once again are the Hockomock League favorite. Senior Julia Jette (38 goals, 36 assists last season) is a four-year varsity player. Middie Kenzie Pleshaw and defender Sam Jones are also back from a team that advanced to the Division 1 East semifinals last year.
■ Needham (21-2): The Rockets have been eliminated in the postseason by Notre Dame or Westwood each of the last 10 seasons. But a strong trio of Division 1 recruits — Sarah Conley (Richmond), Kailey Conry (BU), and Ally Hickey (Lafayette) — hopes to put Beth O’Brien’s group over the hump in the Division 1 South bracket.
■ Wellesley (17-2-1): The Raiders reached the Division 1 South semifinal in coach Michelle Cook’s first season before falling to Westwood. Leading scorer Sophie Vernon (57 goals, 34 assists) is back.
Michael McMahon can be reached at email@example.com.