As Springbrook High School senior girls lacrosse midfielder Udeme “Dee Dee” Akpaete sprinted down the Blue Devils’ field during a game last week, teammates shouted, “Run Dee Dee, run!”
A few moments later she scored and the public address announcer exclaimed that is a “goal by ‘Speedy’ Dee Dee Akpaete.”
“Apparently everyone thinks I am pretty fast,” Akpaete said with a laugh. “I guess I am just used to running because I don’t feel like I am going fast.”
Classmate and Rebels club team member Micah Brown had a slightly different view.
“Who is she kidding?” she said. “Dee Dee just runs so easily and you are trying to keep up, but before you know it, she’s gone.”
Akpaete’s speed is a blessing for the Blue Devils, but she is not a natural lacrosse player. A field hockey and track star, she only learned of the sport as a sophomore.
Once she tired it, however, she decided to forego track in the spring in favor of lacrosse.
“I like the feeling of playing a team sport,” said Akpaete, who will not play a competitive sport in college and is planning to attend Cornell (N.Y.) University to study applied economics and management. “Running was fun, but it was a little boring since it is so individual. A lot of my friends were playing lacrosse so I wanted the camaraderie with them. The feeling when we score and celebrate together is so awesome.”
Akpaete has earned first team All-Gazette accolades in field hockey and Runner of the Year honors for indoor track, winning the 2011 Maryland 4A championship in the 500 meter run. Like many lacrosse players at high schools in the Silver Spring and Wheaton area, she didn’t start playing the sport until reaching high school.
Like Springbrook (3-1 record as of Sunday), many of its neighboring schools are not traditionally strong hotbeds for lacrosse. Northeast Consortium rivals James H. Blake (4-1) and Paint Branch (2-3) have had some success in the past, but Downcounty Consortium (DCC) schools Albert Einstein (2-3), John F. Kennedy (0-5), Northwood (1-3) and Wheaton (1-3) rarely field teams with winning records and struggle finding players with any lacrosse experience prior to high school.
Montgomery Blair finished with 9-3 and 8-4 records in 2008 and 2010, respectively, but has not won a playoff game in at least five years.
Students who reside in the consortiums’ boundaries are free to enroll in one of the high schools, which each offering a distinctive academy program designed to capture their interests.
“All of the DCC has the same issues, but they aren’t bad. It is just different from traditional lacrosse,” said fifth-year Wheaton coach Lauren Zolkiewicz, who played at Annapolis High School and Duquense (Pa.) University. “We get kids that come in with zero experience so we are obviously a little behind schools that get kids coming in with a club lax background. It also goes beyond the experience factor … the majority of my team is Hispanic and there is a big culture gap.”
To help her student-athletes and parents better understand the game, Zolkiewicz created and distributed a handout explaining the basic rules of game.
“We still have some gaps, but it’s been a learning process for me and the girls,” she said. “We’ve had to explain the time commitment to parents and some of the kids have to walk to practice, but the girls are so enthusiastic and that is so rewarding as a coach.
“I came from a background of playing lacrosse year-round and all the time and coaching at Wheaton was a major change for me. They’ve learned a lot by just watching and playing other teams.. A few of them actually started playing outside of high school and that is awesome.”
Kennedy coach Joe Fama agrees.
“You have a group of girls with varied backgrounds — last year’s [junior varsity] and varsity [teams] spoke nine other languages besides English — who do not have experience in lacrosse, or in many cases any organized sports,” Fama said in an email to The Gazette last month. “[They] come out to play the game, and end up as a team.”
At Northwood, second-year coach Carlos Montalvan gets most of his players from other sports.
“Ten or 12 of the girls come from the soccer or field hockey teams,” he said. “We only have one club player. … I know there has been some discussion amongst the girls from the DCC area to try and start their own club team, which would benefit all of the Silver Spring and Wheaton area schools greatly.”
Meanwhile, Akpaete’s time as a lacrosse player is likely going to end in four weeks, but she hopes the game can continue to gain traction in her community.
“We have improved so much,” she said. “More people got to give it a try.”