Thirteen years ago, Sammy White attended a college lacrosse game for the first time and, thankfully, saw someone that looked like her. It was Taylor Thornton, then a freshman defender for Northwestern, whose skin stood out in a purple-trimmed jersey in a sea of otherwise white players and most of the nearly 9,000 fans watching the NCAA Division I women’s final four at Towson’s Johnny Unitas Stadium.

“I’m rooting for the purple team because I like that there’s a Black person on the team,” White thought to herself then, as an elementary school kid from Timonium sitting in the crowd with her dad, Mike, a 1981 Towson alum. They took the 15-minute drive from home to the stadium. Northwestern won that night, beating North Carolina to advance to their then-sixth straight national title game, and little Sammy got autographs afterward from the team and its coach, Kelly Amonte Hiller.

Then she kept playing lacrosse (and basketball and soccer, too) and eventually starred at Dulaney High in multiple sports and with the perennially strong Skywalkers club lacrosse program. White became an Under Armour All-American in lacrosse and was recruited by powers like Florida, Notre Dame and ... Northwestern, where she ultimately chose to play with the idea of winning a national title.

On Sunday, White’s lacrosse journey came full circle — and then some — and it’s far from over yet. Now a sophomore at Northwestern, the 5-foot-6 White was a difference-maker all over the field — on defense, securing draw controls, even scoring a goal as the Wildcats beat Boston College, 18-6, in Cary, North Carolina, to claim the program’s eighth national title under Amonte Hiller, a former two-time champ as a player at Maryland, and the first since 2012.

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In what is still predominantly white game, White was also the only Black player on either team in Sunday’s title game. Yet, playing before a crowd of 6,705 on a rainy afternoon in Cary in a game televised on ESPN, gave her the chance to be for other young players what Thornton — who became a four-time All-American, U.S. team member and now works at a venture capital firm in Chicago — was to White in that national semifinal game 13 years ago at Towson.

On Sunday, ESPN picked White as the player of the game, with her stat line featured at the end of the broadcast amid the team’s celebration: six ground balls, seven draw controls, three caused turnovers, one goal on one shot. It was everything you would want to see from any defender or midfielder, and it was everything she wanted, too.

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“Sammy White on draw controls, on ground balls, on defense,” said Amonte Hiller, who tied her former coach at Maryland, Cindy Timchal, for the NCAA lead in national titles with eight, when I asked about the Baltimore native’s impact on the game. As Amonte Hiller spoke, Izzy Scane, Northwestern’s top offensive player and likely Tewaaraton Award-winner as the nation’s best player in a few days, sat next to her coach and reminded her White scored too — an empty-netter late that made her the Wildcats’ eighth different scorer and helped put the game away in running time.

“I forgot about that one,” Amonte Hiller continued. “She’s just a phenomenal kid, phenomenal player.”

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The win marked the possible beginning of a second wind for the once-dominant Northwestern women’s program, which won seven championships in eight years starting back in 2005 when White hadn’t even started playing lacrosse. What’s more, the spark for Northwestern’s first national title in 11 years may have been Amonte Hiller’s decision to move the versatile White, the reigning Big Ten freshman of the year who played offense and defense as rookie, out of the midfield and back to defense. That happened in the second half of the Wildcats’ first meeting with Boston College way back in February. Northwestern won the game 15-14 after trailing 10-6 at halftime.

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“We really saw some of the confidence that we could have with that group down there,” Amonte Hiller said of the unit that also included juniors Kendall Halpern and Carleigh Mahoney, and grad student Allie Berkery in front of goalie Molly Laliberty, a grad transfer from Division III Tufts.

After allowing an average of 15 goals in its first three games, including a season-opening loss to Syracuse, the Wildcats gave up only eight scores per game in their final 19, and didn’t lose again. The run after that game included a pair of Big Ten-deciding wins over rival Maryland (13-6 on April 22 to decide the regular season champ, and 14-9 on May 6 in the conference postseason title game.)

On Sunday, Northwestern’s backer, zone with White holding down the right low side, never seemed to give Boston College’s offense a chance to make the game close. The Eagles only managed 19 shots and put only nine on goal, compared to Northwestern’s 42 shots and 25 put on cage. Maybe as important as her place in the defense causing turnovers and scooping ground balls was White’s impact on the possession game.

White would simply outrun the Eagles defenders in transition, chugging down the rain-soaked turf. How often did she or Samantha Smith (eight draw controls) grab the ball on the circle after a draw? Plenty, including combining for nine straight at one point.

“Sam and Sammy are best of friends and they both had incredible impact on this game today,” said Amonte Hiller. “When you have your best friend beside you on that draw control, they were doing it, and it was really, really cool to see them. … Two sophomores just doing their thing.”

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You got the sense watching Smith that she could do anything and everything if asked. She also showed some flair, waving a Boston College player off the field who checked her high and drew a yellow-card in the second half.

White followed in the footsteps of Thornton and a few other well-known Black players ascending to the top of the lacrosse world (see: Morgan State’s famous Ten Bears, or 2005 Tewaaraton Award-winner Kyle Harrison from Johns Hopkins, or the recently passed Jim Brown, arguably the game’s best player of all-time; or HBCU Division I programs like the Delaware State women or Hampton men). But according to the most recent NCAA demographic data available, the number of Black women’s and men’s players on rosters in all divisions this season was around 4%, compared to 83% white.

White hopes she can inspire change.

“I want people to come to the final four and I want them to be like, ‘They have a girl that looks like me. I want to root for them,’” she said ahead of championship weekend. “That’s what I want to give those girls. I want to give them what I had.”

Then, she did.

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Simmons comes through in clutch again for Notre Dame

Notre Dame grad student midfielder Jack Simmons, formerly of McDonogh, had a hand in three of the Fighting Irish’s final four goals as they beat Duke 13-9 in the NCAA Division I men’s title game on Monday to claim the program’s first-ever national championship.

Simmons, a second-line midfielder for the third-seeded Irish (14-2) who had a hat trick in Notre Dame’s quarterfinal win over Johns Hopkins, had a goal and two assists in the fourth quarter in the title game to help Notre Dame pull away after Duke (16-3) rallied from a 6-1 halftime deficit to tie the game at 7 late in the third quarter.

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The lefty from Lutherville, who transferred from Virginia to Notre Dame last fall, ended up playing first-line midfield when it mattered most, running with Irish first-liners Brian Tevlin and Eric Dobson late in Notre Dame’s semifinal win over second-seeded Virginia on Saturday and in the second half against Duke before an announced 30,462 fans at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

“At some point you get down to short minutes in your team’s life and you say, ‘Who are the best guys that we can put on the field right now?,’” Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said after the game. “Forget about the midfield lines. … At the end of the year and the end of the game, you’ve got to put the guys out there who are playing the best and making plays, and that was that group.”

Salisbury men take another D-III title

Sophomore attackman Brice Bromwell (Cambridge-South Dorchester) scored four goals and three other Sea Gills had hat tricks as second-seeded Salisbury beat top-ranked Tufts, 17-12, to win the program’s 13th national championship under coach Jim Berkman.

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Sophomore goalie Nicholas Ransom (St. Mary’s Ryken) made a career-high 16 saves against the nation’s leading offense. Grad student Jackson Woodward (St. Paul’s), who switched from short-stick defensive midfielder to close defense after an injury to an All-American starter less than a month ago, had three ground balls and forced a key first-quarter turnover.

The mark ties Salisbury, which finished 23-1, with Hobart for the most Division III men’s national titles.

“It’s pretty special in a lot of ways, when you think about the number and you think about what’s been done in the game,” said Berkman, who is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA men’s lacrosse history at any level and just finished his 35th season as the Sea Gulls’ head coach. “It’s a tribute to not only this year’s team, but to the 35 years I’ve been at Salisbury and the guys that have made this all possible.”

A controversial ending

The Duke men advanced to the Division I title game in a 16-15 overtime win against Penn State on Saturday that ended in controversy and made the case for a wider use of instant replay in college lacrosse.

On the first possession of first-goal-wins OT, Duke grad student midfielder Garrett Leadmon (DeMatha) roll-dodged on the crease and put a shot past Penn State goalie Jack Fracyon (Bullis) to set off a celebration as officials left the field. Meanwhile, television replays and video on the scoreboard inside Lincoln Financial Field showed Leadmon’s right foot in the goal crease — an illegal action — but the play was not reviewable under NCAA rules and stood as called.

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Replay isn’t used in men’s college lacrosse outside of a few specific situations, mostly to do with end-of-quarter timing situations.

In the quarterfinal round, Penn State was the beneficiary of this use of replay, when a review at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis showed an Army player’s potential game-tying goal at the end of regulation left his stick after the game clock expired.

On Saturday, though, the lack of replay spoiled an otherwise great game and created an awkward situation, as some angry Penn State fans hurled beer cans on the field and the outcome put Leadmon in the position of answering questions about the legitimacy of the score afterward.

“I saw the referee put his hands up in the air and I figured we won the game, and that’s the end of that,” Leadmon, an Annapolis native, told reporters. “I thought that the game was over, and we won. So that’s why I celebrated.”

The fault here lies with the NCAA men’s rules committee. As recently retired Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Tierney said on ESPN’s postgame coverage on Saturday, lacrosse needs “to catch up” to using replay. Crease calls that impact the scoreboard directly are among the most obvious uses. They can be difficult for officials to make in real-time — they have to simultaneously track the ball, the goal, feet, bodies for a possible foul — and these kind of calls can be impossible if a particular view is obstructed, which appeared to be the case here.

“It certainly was not a malicious call,” Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said. He also said, “Yes. There should definitely be a review. At what point and at what level we implement that, I hope it does go in there at some point. Especially in a game like this, on that stage, it’s available, but at the same time I recognize that it’s not a part of our game and we understand that we got to live with the result and just move on.”

Nobody should have to live with it, though, and the fix is simple. The technology has been in place for at least a decade.

During televised games, especially final four games that make for the game’s biggest stage, if people at home or fans in the stands can see the correct call quickly, but the officials couldn’t in real-time, replay should be used. Crease violation reviews in the final few minutes of a game, for example, would be easy to implement, and hopefully be rarely used, available when needed.

After quipping “Not today,” when asked if he supported replay in such situations, Duke coach John Danowski suggested that more review might slow the pace of the game and may not be warranted. “The beauty of our sport, we’re not commercial,” Danowski said. “We’re not doing it for the money, these kids play because they love the sport.”

Still, stakeholders in the game are trying to expand lacrosse’s reach, including pushing for a place in the Olympics. And blatantly incorrect calls leave a sour taste in any vieweror player’s mouth. The Premier Lacrosse League, the pro outdoor league which begins play this week, uses replay.

According to PLL co-founder and former Johns Hopkins star midfielder Paul Rabil, the indoor National Lacrosse League uses replay, too. And the college game is still the most-watched form of the sport, each Memorial Day weekend. I’ve talked to television producers in the game in the past who want to be able to use replay more, but the rules don’t allow it.

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But this is less about business or anything else than just getting the result right.

Video reviews of crease violations (including push/dive calls, long among the most disputed in the game) could begin with limited use late in NCAA tournament games. It should be made part of the NCAA rules as soon as possible, which (by rule) right now is the 2025 season as changes are implemented every two years. Because no outcome should be decided by an obviously wrong call if it can be avoided. And it can. Easily.

Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.