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June 24, 2009

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Charlotte's Ville: English Star Lands at UVA

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | The Blague from Prague

Team England standout Charlotte "Charlie" Finnigan backpacked the U.S. following the 2007 U-19 championships with teammate Kate Newall -- each blindly hoping to earn a roster spot at a Division I college. Newall landed at Notre Dame, and Finnigan will play at Virginia beginning in the fall.

© Pellerins Photography

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Charlottesville, Virginia is an extremely American place -- the platonic ideal of a college town nestled into the Blue Ridge mountains, founded by U.S. president Thomas Jefferson and populated by prep school grads in critter pants and boat shoes.

That made it that much more surprising for Cavaliers women's lacrosse coach Julie Myers when a spunky English girl turned up on her doorstep, looking for a spot on her roster.

"She brought something to our office that was unique, and we were really intrigued. She had the U-19 pedigree, but really, her personality kind of won us over," Myers said of her first English recruit, Charlotte "Charlie" Finnigan.

Finnigan, an attacker for Team England, took a bold approach to her lacrosse career. After playing for England's under-19 team in 2007 outside Toronto, she and teammate Kate Newall took off on an American road trip from North Carolina to Brown, stopping to call on different Division I coaches along the way.

"People looked at us like we were nuts. They said, 'What are you doing? No one backpacks through America,'" said Finnigan. "But we wanted to play a high style of lacrosse, the best, and the U.S. college system is the only place you can get that."

So Finnigan and Newall peddled their U1-9 DVDs up and down the East Coast, hoping to get a bite. When they showed up in Charlottesville, Myers was already aware of Finnigan from buzz at the U-19 tournament. She and her assistants had done a whirlwind tour of Toronto to support the Virginia-bound recruits on the American roster. They heard good things about Team England and the tall blonde attacker who made them look like contenders, but were really more concerned with closing the deal with Josie Owen, memorably the only U.S. U-19 player who did not make an early commitment to college.

(Owen, a midfielder, eventually chose Virginia.)

Then Finnigan and Newall (who now plays midfield for the University of Notre Dame) showed up in her office, naïve about the NCAA recruiting process but worldly in a way Myers rarely sees amongst American teenagers.

"Just meeting her in our office, and hearing how many things she'd done on her own, there's a maturity and confidence there. I told her, 'You know what? You've navigated more states than most high school kids, especially without a parent,'" said Myers.

"She's literally toured the world, with a backpack and a buddy. I bet you she ends up getting a lot of our kids to go and travel in the summer, Charlie style. And she does it without thinking it's unique or cool."

Finnigan has the lacrosse goods, too. She is the leading scorer in the British University Lacrosse League, and has four goals and one assist thus far in the 2009 FIL World Cup with limited minutes. (She's one of the youngest players on the English roster.)

After seeing her on Team England's February and October tours in the U.S., Myers was convinced Finnigan could compete in the ACC.

"She's a true attacker and she understands how to set an offense up. We're excited to get her, lacrosse-wise," said Myers.

Because Finnigan started her one-woman campaign to be a Cavalier late on the recruiting calendar, she spent the 2008-09 school year at the University of Loughborough, studying sport science. When she transfers to Virginia, she plans to major in either psychology or music. (In addition to being an athlete, Finnigan sings vocals in an acoustic band called Everyday People and plays the flute.) Either way, she's pleased to be off on another new adventure.

"It's not just the lacrosse. It's that whole new culture. I'm excited about that," said Finnigan.

Before she departs for UVA, Finnigan has some unfinished business with Team England. The English entered the tournament with medal ambitions, but posted a disappointing 1-3 record in the round robin, including a heartbreaking 10-9 collapse against Canada. England plays Japan, a team it defeated 20-3 earlier in the week, in the first round of medal competition today. The winner of that game will face the winner of the U.S.-Ireland game in the semifinals.

England stayed with the U.S. in the teams' World Cup opener for a half, playing to a 6-6 tie before falling 17-8, and Finnigan and her teammates believe they can go the distance.

"There's nothing in it between the top three or four teams. I think anyone would be able to win it," said Finnigan.

A bold attitude got Finnigan to Charlottesville. It might just get her into the winner's circle in Prague, too.


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