A quick scan of the Penn State women’s lacrosse roster reveals that almost half of its players hail from the Baltimore area.
Come 2009, the Nittany Lions will add another four local players to the mix.
Dana Cahill from Mercy, Brittany Chamberlain from Westminster, Colleen Shea from Seton Keough and Theresa Zichelli from Severna Park are all committed to the Penn State women’s lacrosse program, where they’ll be freshmen next fall.
Each local girl is headed from Baltimore to State College, but each took an interesting path to get there.
In any given year, a high-major women’s lacrosse program will feature two or three goalies on its roster. Penn State’s current team sports two, a senior and a sophomore. When it comes to recruiting, a program will generally take one scholarship goalie ... or none at all.
Dana Cahill, a 5-foot-7 goalie, knew the tough reality with goaltenders and scholarships. It’s “either me or somebody else,” she said. So when high school games and club tournaments finished, and the time for Penn State’s summer camp came, Cahill knew if she wanted to be a Nittany Lion, she’d have to step up.
“I definitely knew the camp was something that was probably going to seal the deal,” Cahill said. “That was my last impression before they would probably make an offer to me because there were no more tournaments. I knew I had to play my best and show them what I could do and what I had to offer.”
Cahill’s best at camp turned out to be plenty good for the PSU staff. On the last day of the camp during lunch, the coaches offered her a scholarship. So there was much discussion on the post-camp car ride home on whether or not she should commit.
“It was the topic we talked about basically the whole time,” Cahill said. “My parents later told me after I did commit that that’s where they saw me playing. They never told me ahead of time because they didn’t want to influence my decision. They said, ‘Dana, we think this is the place you should be.’ And I did agree. I think this is the place I can win a national championship and make a name for myself.”
So when Penn State head coach Suzanne Isidor called the Cahill home the following day, Dana made her commitment.
Cahill came into the camp with an offer from Loyola, serious interest from Notre Dame, and a number of other college visits under her belt, so she knew what other options were out there. But the coaching staff, players on the team, and especially the widespread, almost overwhelming Penn State pride was what won Cahill over.
“I’ve met alumni who’ve gone there and they still love Penn State,” Cahill said. “The pride and tradition is one of the most amazing things there. Everyone who goes there is absolutely in love with it and I hope that’ll be the same for me.”
The not-so-real package deal
Before recruiting even got started, Brittany Chamberlain knew Cahill pretty well. The girls were teammates on the club lacrosse program Rome.
So when recruiting picked up for both players, it was a bit of a surprise when they got together to discuss potential schools.
“It’s weird because before the recruiting process, I said, ‘Dana, you pick a school and I’ll go wherever you go,’” Chamberlain said jokingly. “We hadn’t seen each other since fall and then we got together for summer tournaments. [We talked recruiting] and she said Notre Dame and Penn State were her top schools.”
Interestingly enough, ND and PSU just so happened to be Chamberlain’s top schools at the time as well. In July, Chamberlain -- independently of Cahill – decided Penn State was the right choice for her. Much to her surprise, the joke between friends became a reality.
“We’re not really a package deal,” Chamberlain said. “It was more of a joke, like ‘I’m going where you go.’ But then all of a sudden we both decided to go there. I told [coach] Suzanne [Isidor] I wanted to commit there. And she said, ‘Have you talked to Dana yet?’
“I called [Dana] the next day and told her I committed and we were excited to play together in college.”
Chamberlain, a 5-foot-3 defender, felt a great level of comfort with the coaching staff, and also appreciated the proximity of her home to State College versus South Bend, Ind. But ultimately – much like her future Baltimore-area teammates – it was the school spirit that sealed the deal.
“Just when you go there and talk about going to Penn State, everyone’s so excited. We are Penn State,” said Chamberlain, reciting the famous Nittany Lion slogan. “Even if you went there 20 years ago, you still love the school and I love that.”
Little sister – part I
Of the four Baltimore-to-Penn State girls, Colleen Shea was probably the most well-versed on all things State College. In fact, Shea estimates she visits Penn State once or twice a month.
The reason for her semimonthly State College jaunts? Older sisters Linsey and Kerry are upperclassmen on the PSU lacrosse squad.
Shea has made so many trips to see her sisters that she can’t even remember the first. One visit in particular does stick out in her mind, though.
“I knew that I visited it a lot, but the very distinct memory I had was my sister Kerry’s official [visit] which was my freshman year,” Shea said. “Going through the process, I remembered that visit. I remember telling [assistant coach Tara Hohenshelt], ‘I want to go here.’”
Not discounting Shea’s freshman-year proclamation, the 5-foot-4 defender let the recruiting process play out, giving heavy consideration to Notre Dame and Yale.
The elder Sheas didn’t even pressure their little sister, instead letting those frequent campus visits do the recruiting for them.
“I actually like the football and the school sprit,” Shea said. “Everyone who goes there tells you how much they love the school. There’s so much enthusiasm. The town, everything centers around the college and I just love that.”
Finally in late September, Shea came to the realization that Penn State was where she wanted to go ‘the whole time,’ which, if nothing else, will make Shea family gatherings all the more pleasant.
“I’ve got to keep it in the family,” Shea said with a laugh.
Little sister – part II
Starting in 2005, Bob and Jenny Zichelli started logging frequent car trips to State College. They’d often load up the family car (first a Suburban, now an Odyssey) with Theresa, younger sister Mary, older brothers Bobby and Kevin, and younger twin brothers Mike and Steven. The reason for the State College trips? To see another Zichelli brother, Tommy, who was starting his Nittany Lion career with the men’s lacrosse team in ‘05.
With Theresa’s commitment, the younger Zichelli siblings can undoubtedly look forward to more family car rides to State College.
The fact that Zichelli’s brother Tommy -- who was named team captain in September – was a happy Nittany Lion was something her future teammates repeatedly reminded her of on every recruiting visit she made.
“The girls on the team were like, ‘oh, your brother’s on the team and he loves it so you’ll love it, too.’ When I went up for a visit, people were already calling me ‘Tommy’s sister,’ so it was fun.”
Zichelli, a 5-foot-7 midfielder, also gave serious consideration to Johns Hopkins and Virginia. But by the time spring rolled around, she had tired of recruiting. Fortunately for her, she also had a clear indication of where she wanted to end up.
“I knew I wanted to commit early because I could be done and there was a lot of stress,” Zichelli said. “By April I had already visited Penn State five or six times, so I was comfortable. I felt stupid just delaying the process when I already knew that was where I wanted to go.”
While following her brother to Penn State is a definite plus, Zichelli’s affinity for the school and lacrosse program eventually would have won out regardless of family ties. The school spirit, camaraderie and team passion were the decisive selling points for Zichelli.
“I love how everyone is so into Penn State,” Zichelli said. “Everyone I talked to just loves it there. I’ve never met anyone who hated it there.
“I really liked the coaches and all the girls on the team. Everyone’s just like me, nice and easygoing. But when it comes to lacrosse, everyone’s intense.”
With club teams and high school games, there’s already been quite a bit of overlap between Cahill, Chamberlain, Shea and Zichelli.
But when the quartet suits up for Penn State next year – likely in front of a crowd packed with parents, siblings and friends from the area – Baltimore girls lacrosse in State College will, once again, be well represented.
“I think we’re all in different positions for the most part and come from different schools,” Cahill said, “but I hope we do represent our schools and [make people] realize girls from Baltimore are really good at lacrosse and even through they’re from different schools, they can unite and play as a team.”