By: Evan Nicely
Her mom’s hairdresser, her old high school athletic director, her college lacrosse coach, her former basketball coach, an old rival.
When you’re from a small town, these types of connections are fairly common. For VCU Lacrosse head coach Jen O’Brien, it was these connections to her hometown in Carroll County, Maryland that led to player commitments and laid the foundation for the now third-year program.
The Rams currently boast six student-athletes and an assistant coach, Liz French, who have all called both Richmond and the county home in addition to O’Brien.
“It’s a little bit of Mayberry. You know everyone and everyone’s related one way or the other, or they know someone who knows someone,” O’Brien said. “It’s very rural and it’s a self-sustaining county. Farming and agriculture really provides everything the county needs.”
It is almost deceiving that the rolling hills and vast farm land in the quaint northern Maryland county constitutes a hotbed for women’s lacrosse, but even the best Division I programs in the country rely on the talent the area produces.
The county boasts multiple Tewaaraton Trophy winners, the highest individual honor in Division I women’s lacrosse, All-Americans, and U.S. National Lacrosse Team members.
Molly Barcikowski, who scored first goal in VCU program history, is a Carroll County native. The top three Rams in total points so far this season are Carroll County natives. The top scorer in program history is a Carroll County native. In total, the six girls from the county are responsible for 49 percent of the goals, 61 percent of the assists and 53 percent of the total points in the program’s history.
All of it is quite remarkable for a sport that less than 25 years ago didn’t even exist in the county. O’Brien was a member of the first lacrosse team in Carroll County in 1995 and is now seeing the rewards of the path she helped laid on her own team.
“It’s definitely bizarre seeing how I was on that first Carroll County team and [my current players] have had lacrosse be such a big part of their whole lives. It really makes me appreciate being on that first team and seeing how far it has come,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien was the initial link between the VCU Lacrosse program and Carroll County when she was charged with starting VCU’s program from scratch and it wasn’t long before the pipeline began.
Carroll County’s Sky Hyatt, currently a redshirt junior, was a member of the Rams’ inaugural recruiting class. The following season she was joined by juniors Molly Barcikowski, Morgan Hoff and Caroline Debnam. The next season, sophomore Keriann McTavish. This season, freshman Caroline Glenn joined the fold.
“I was excited that they all committed and came to VCU because they’re all really good athletes. I know the style of play and I know how they were all coached so I was excited to be on the same team,” Hyatt said.
It didn’t take long once the group got together to make an immediate impact on the program and on Atlantic 10 Women’s Lacrosse.
Hyatt, whose mother cuts O’Brien’s mother’s hair back in Carroll County, became the program’s first All-Atlantic 10 First Team selection in 2017. This season, she became the first Ram to eclipse 100 career goals and draw controls.
McTavish, whose father plays adult league basketball with O’Brien’s old basketball coach, was named to the All-Atlantic 10 Rookie Team after a standout freshman campaign in 2017 when she scored 34 goals and added 26 assists.
Barcikowski, along with Hyatt, was named to the All-Atlantic 10 Rookie Team during the program’s inaugural season in 2016 and earned an A-10 Player of the Week honor in 2017.
Joining forces on the field at VCU not only has led to on-field success, but it laid to rest some old rivalries amongst the six girls.
“I really did not like Keriann and Molly before VCU because of high school basketball. They were just so good,” Hyatt said.
McTavish, Barcikowski and Hyatt all played point guard for their respective high school teams in addition to lacrosse and often matched up against each other on the hardwood. Hoff would always be charged with guarding Barcikowski on the lacrosse field. Debnam and McTavish both attended the same high school, as did Hyatt and newcomer Caroline Glenn.
That familiarity between the group has made its way south to Richmond and onto Cary Street Field.
“I feel like I can look at Molly or Sky on attack and with eye contact just know they’re going to cut for a pass,” McTavish said. “The way we play lacrosse in Carroll County is gritty and very scrappy.”
The group and O’Brien attribute the cohesiveness and success of the group based on that style of play. For a program just establishing itself, it’s just the kind of mentality needed.
“We can get those type of kids here to VCU that will just work, work, work. It may not be quite as pretty, but they’re going to go all in. Once you’re in it, you bleed it. If you talk to any one of those girls, they’re so insanely proud to be from Carroll County. The pride in what you do and doing your job is instilled in you,” said O’Brien.
The program went 3-14 in its inaugural season before jumping to a 7-10 record in 2017 and finishing tied for sixth in the A-10 standings, four spots ahead of where they were picked in the preseason poll. The program has made considerable progress in an extremely short amount of time but the girls from Carroll County have their sights aimed higher.
“I want to look back knowing that we were a part of those first couple of classes that set the tone for the program and the standards. When you go into a new program, there’s no structure and knowing we built that program into something when we’re gone, that would be very fulfilling,” Barcikowski said.
O’Brien, who couldn’t have foreseen the long-lasting impact of joining that very first lacrosse team in Carroll County would have on her life, beams with pride when prodded about the legacy her hometown girls will leave behind.
“I don’t think they would’ve had it any other way. They are going to be such a massive part of this program’s history. That’s why they came here. They wanted to do it,” O’Brien said. “I hope what it does is inspire a new round of Carroll County girls to come through and break their records and achieve the same things. I would love for that to happen. I do know they have a huge sense of pride with what they’ve already done here.”
When entering Carroll County, the sign reads “Feel Right at Home.” Despite the program’s connection to the area, that is the same message these six Rams want to send to their future teammates and the next chapter of VCU Lacrosse, regardless of geography.
“VCU Lacrosse is a family. I look up to all these girls and it does feel like home. It feels nice to know that I have teammates from Carroll County. I also want everyone else who comes here to know that this program is one giant family, regardless of where you’re from. We all love each other very much,” Glenn said.