Her father was an All-American and national champion at Johns Hopkins. Her mother played, too, at Towson. Her oldest brother spent two seasons as a goalie at Carolina and her closest brother just won MVP in the ACC Tournament and ACC Offensive Player of the Year for the Tar Heels.
But, no kidding, Sydney Holman may be the best lacrosse player in her highly decorated family. She won’t say as much, of course, but her game and her stats do the talking.
The senior at East Chapel Hill High set a new North Carolina single season record with 13 goals in the regional final against defending state champion Green Hope last Tuesday. The Wildcats won 18-12 and, yes, Sydney outscored the Falcons by herself.
She will take her 123 goals this season into her final high school game Saturday afternoon at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, as East Chapel Hill faces 2012 runner-up Charlotte Catholic for the 4A state championship. Sydney Holman, an engaging, freckled-faced phenom, is in the middle of a dream stretch of her life that began in the lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore.
She was 13 when her father, Brian, took a job as an assistant coach at UNC. This was the third time he had been asked, twice by former head coach John Haus. Finally, he accepted new coach Joe Breschi’s offer to help him rebuild Carolina into a national powerhouse.
Sydney, Marcus and their mom remained in Baltimore for one year, until Sydney finished eighth grade at the prestigious Bryn Mawr School and Marcus graduated from the Gilman School. They visited several times, so Sydney could pick her new high school and Marcus made sure he wanted to follow his older brother Matthew to UNC. That’s when Hairspray, crab cakes, the Ravens and all things Baltimore gave way to country music, southern food and the Tar Heels for the entire Holman family.
“I was a little bitter at first, because I missed my friends so much,” Sydney admitted Thursday night as she and the Wildcats prepared for the game of their young lives. “I visited Chapel Hill High and then East Chapel Hill, and just felt more comfortable at East. So my parents bought a house in the district.”
East Athletic Director Ray Hartsfield knew the school was getting a good lacrosse player with pedigree, but Sydney Holman has turned out to be so much more of an athlete, student and ambassador. She is currently rated the nation’s No. 2 high school player in women’s lacrosse and has already signed to join Coach Jenny Levy and the nationally ranked Tar Heels.
“At the time, I was nervous about moving down here, but my freshman year I played field hockey starting in August and made some amazing friends right away,” Sydney said. Instead of the pressure competing on a team of Division I prospects in Baltimore, she helped East build a lacrosse tradition that led the Wildcats to the state semifinals last year and to the brink of a title in 2013.
With her family background, it’s little wonder she is a good lacrosse player, but Sydney is better than good. And she credits that fine sibling line between being picked on by her two older brothers and learning everything they taught her about the game in their expansive back yard in Baltimore.
“When I was little they beat me up mostly every day, and it toughened me up,” she said. “I wanted to be just like Marcus and copied everything he does. I’m so proud of what he and my dad have accomplished at UNC. I’m their biggest fan. Every weekend, I am either at the men’s game or women’s game. I grew up on Hopkins, but I’m a Tar Heel now for sure.”
Sydney first picked up a lacrosse stick when she was five and has seemingly spent all year practicing, playing and attending camps ever since. She would have been just as highly recruited had she stayed in Baltimore, but has had the joie de vivre of helping her new teammates play the game better and learning to love an unencumbered life.
“My sophomore year, recruiting started, and I wanted to visit other schools even though I had fallen in love with Carolina,” she said. “I visited Florida, Georgetown, Stanford and some others and wanted to compare them to my official visit at UNC, when I attended classes and stayed on campus.
“Honestly, if my brothers didn’t go here, I would still have picked Carolina.” The UNC women go for their fourth trip to the NCAA Final Four in the last five years against Virginia Saturday afternoon — the day before Marcus and his teammates meet Denver in Indianapolis to try to get back to the men’s Final Four for the first time in two decades.
“I can’t wait to join my new teammates next season and have 32 new sisters,” Sydney said. “I have huge expectations for myself and plan to work harder than ever this summer getting ready for college lacrosse. I would love to start as a freshman and help my team win a national championship.”
Before that and graduation next week, Sydney has one more goal in mind. Green Hope thwarted East’s state title bid last year, and ousting the Falcons was the first step.
“Beating them, and getting revenge, felt so good. At halftime (East led 10-9), some players gave a pep talk on how important it was for our seniors to give it everything they had,” she said. “My teammates are so helpful in feeding me the ball, setting picks to help me score; they have made me a more patient player. Thirteen goals is very humbling and I couldn’t have done that without them.”
Now, Coach Michelle Michaels’ team has to finish the job against Charlotte Catholic.
“It has been an amazing ride, and this would be a great way to end my high school career,” said Sydney, a 4.0 AP student who is also a high school academic All-American. East has been a challenge but she was prepared to handle it.
She also has a rich social life in her new town, awash in friends and loving the freedom that living and playing in Chapel Hill affords. She tools around in her eight-year-old BMW, a family hand-me-down but driven by who could be the best lacrosse player in that family.