When Bill Sardella and his family moved to Frederick County from upstate New York 11 years ago, he soon felt something was missing.
As a lifelong lacrosse fanatic, he initially was excited about the prospect of moving to Maryland, a hotbed for male and female youth and college lacrosse. But once Sardella settled in, he quickly realized the county, which only has recognized lacrosse as a varsity program in the public high school ranks since 2000, was a relative novice to the sport.
“From the first day in third grade when I picked up a stick, I've loved lacrosse,” said Sardella. “Wherever I've lived in the country — Virginia, Texas, New York and Maryland — lacrosse has always been a big deal for me and my family.
“When I got here and started watching girls lacrosse in Western Maryland, I was like, 'What is going on here? We are only 55 miles or an hour away from Baltimore and the kids are underdeveloped and lack advanced lacrosse skills.' I knew I had to do something.”
In the meantime, all three of Sardella's daughters, Mara, Rachel and Jessica, played at Urbana High School, which is the only local program ever to advance to the state tournament (2001 semifinals, 2005 finals).
During the spring of 2002, he approached then-Hawks coach Robin Abel and friend Mark Snyder about creating a high quality local outlet for his daughters and other girls throughout the county to learn and be challenged by the game outside of the traditional high school season.
The result? The Frederick Stars Lacrosse Club program, better known as FSLax, opened for business.
“I didn't feel like driving far for my daughters to play for [the Baltimore-area based clubs] Skywalkers and Heroes,” said Sardella, who also coached Urbana for a couple of years in the mid-2000s. “We also discussed and saw how [Urbana] fared at the state level and knew it needed to improve. Mark, Robin and I all got together and created the club that has really taken off after all these years.”
During the initial season, just 25 girls from ninth through 12th grades signed up. Now, entering its 10th anniversary year, FSLax fields six teams and 130 players ranging from elementary to high school age that compete in various summer tournaments.
The club season also is when the majority of college recruiting occurs.
“The goal isn't to be a big club,” said Sardella, FSLax's director of lacrosse. “In the first couple of years we took anybody, and now we have to cut people. That's a good thing because it is a little more selective. But at the same time, we want to be family oriented and help as many kids as possible learn the game. There are obviously some naturally gifted kids, but at the same time, there are a lot of kids that need a lot of coaching. We don't want those girls to fall through the cracks.”
Although only one Frederick County girls lacrosse team ever has won a region championship and it still trails neighboring Carroll County in terms of depth and widespread skill, the county's high school teams have vastly improved in recent years.
“I was the first girl from Frederick County to go play at a major Division I school [Lehigh],” said Walkersville coach Jessica Sardella, who graduated from Urbana in 2004 and coached the Lions to an 8-6 record this spring. “Soon after, three and four girls per year were going to awesome schools. Now, 10 are going per year to play in college.
“Frederick and Washington County lacrosse has improved so much over the years. The experience we see coming into high school has improved exponentially. Every good high school team now has a solid core of club players that have been taught to play the right way in a competitive environment year round.”
At Tuscarora, coach Brad Gray fielded a team this spring with a nucleus of veterans and young club players. As a result, the Titans recorded its best season in school history with a 10-4 record.
“The growth of the club has helped tremendously,” said Gray, who has coached both boys and girls teams. His eighth-grade daughter, Aubrey, is a member of FSLax. “That gap has narrowed, but for us to be truly competitive at the state level, we need more athletes to get up and down the field. It is a fast game. Our stick skills are much, much better than they used to be thanks to the growth of lacrosse in the youth levels, but we still need a few more natural athletes.”
“We have a handful of really good players spread throughout Frederick and after college, they comeback to help coach in high school or with the club,” said Abel, who is one of FSLax's goalie coaches. “Every girl that plays in Carroll County plays club and starts playing lacrosse at a much younger age. Frederick is getting there, but that's the biggest difference.”