Bennett lacrosse seniors ready for life’s next phase

James M. Bennett High School’s Kayla Beale, Caitlyn Dunn, Hope Shearer, Dara Gregory and Jaibyn Hull.

Listening to these five, lively lacrosse players banter and share memories, it’s interesting that, in their game, players catch, cradle and pass.

As they talked about knowing each other since pre-school, building alliances and, now, struggling with the bittersweet feeling of graduating in June, they closely followed the game.

From the age of 3 or 4, they encouraged each other to start playing lacrosse, spent time on the road together as members of a travel team, socialized, giggled, comforted, matured, all as their closeness deepened.

Early this week, after school at James M. Bennett High School, Kayla Beale, Caitlyn Dunn, Dara Gregory, Jaibyn Hull and Hope Shearer — sticks in hand before they began practice — vowed not to lose touch with one another.

“Reunions. We’ll definitely have reunions. We’re already planning that,” Hope said as her four friends, gathered in a semi-circle around her, nodded.

“This is bittersweet,” said Jaibyn, a slight young woman with a big smile who plans to study medicing. She received a full scholarship for academics to Stevenson University in Owings Mills.

“It’s sad and happy at the same time. I’m happy to see everybody grow and achieve their goals but we all won’t see each other anymore,” she said.

Kayla, who will study pre-veterinary medicine, also at Stevenson, is known as the more serious one. She smiled as Hope said they know a joke among them is truly funny if she breaks into a chuckle.

Kayla remembered seeing her cousin play lacrosse in Baltimore when she was a child before she started playing. “My dad just kind of signed me up,” she said.

Jaibyn learned from Caitlyn and Dara who had a good-natured skirmish about who was her friend first.

“I had never played a sport. They said, ‘It’s easy’ The first couple of weeks were rough but Caitlyn and I always were friends,” Jaibyn said.

“She was my first friend at Stepping Stones Daycare,” Caitlyn said, taking a step closer to Jaibyn.

Hope still has a pillow decorated with tiny handprints, among them, Jaibyn’s, her little fingers spread wide.

Dara remembered her first lacrosse stick, pink with purple stick figures of girls in play. “I still have it,” she said.

Caitlyn’s was glittery.

“I taught Jaibyn how to play in my front yard. She would come over and I would show her how to play,” recalled Caitlyn, who will go to college at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., and study physical therapy. “She was really nice, and we played together a lot.”

Dara will study sports management at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va., and Hope will study biology at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.

All of them received scholarships.

“We’ll make time to see each other,” Caitlyn said.

“We all came from the same background. Our parents have influenced us. We all love the game. I have a 6-year-old sister and we’re trying to teach her how to play. We all have played on a travel team since sixth grade,” she said, explaining lacrosse season is in the spring at school, but they stay involved with the travel team most of the rest of the year.

She remembered her father urging her to go to lacrosse camp when she was in first grade and said she knows he will attend all of her games.

The five, who play for the Clippers at Bennett High School, will graduate on June 1.

They are eager to spend a week in Ocean City afterward, where bonding and merriment will continue, about topics like which of the Seven Dwarfs each would be and the nicknames they’ve chosen for one other.

Optimistic Hope is “Hopey.” Jaibyn, a nurturer, is “Jubs” and Dara is “Gregs.”

Caitlyn, the competitive one, is “Dunny.”

“Oh, yeah. I love competition. I play defense. I like the authority as a defenseman in lacrosse,” she said.

It could be that Dara and Caitlin’s college teams will face each other on a lacrosse field, but Dara amiably scoffed at the prospect of going easy on her friend. “Oh, no,” she said, pushing up the sleeve of her T-shirt to reveal bruises she said Caitlyn caused while playing.

The subject turned to what the young women will be doing 20 years from now.

Jaibyn, Hope said, will have found a cure for cancer. Kayla will be saving animals “and I’ll be saving athletes,” Dara said.

Undoubtedly, they will stay in touch.

“I’m sure they will,” their coach, Becky Gregory, who is Dara’s mother, said.

“I think every athlete should have the experience of playing lacrosse,” she said, as she watched the teammates, who had reassembled in the gym.

“It teaches discipline. It gets you ready for the working world. You have to get along with everyone and you have to listen to what somebody else tells you to do and do it,” the coach said.

“I will definitely miss them,” she said.

“They are so easy to coach and they know what to do.  But they are ready to go.”

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