As the hot afternoon sun began its slow descent behind the surrounding forest, large shadows began to cast themselves across portions of the field. Practice had officially ended 15 minutes earlier, but attacker Kristen Waagbo was still standing attentively a few yards from the net.
Waagbo suddenly accelerated toward the goal, pausing a moment to receive a pass before sending the ball into the back of the net. A few seconds later, Waagbo resumed her position at the top of the crease, eagerly awaiting the drill to start again.
Known by her teammates simply as “Waags,” Waagbo has enjoyed a standout season. After a stellar freshman campaign in which she led the team in assists and finished third in goals, the Ellicott City, Md., native, has already surpassed many of her totals from last season. In only 11 games, the sophomore has scored 27 goals and recorded 10 assists.
Waagbo’s contributions to the Blue Devils’ program, however, have not been limited to her offensive output on the playing field. In fact, Waagbo played an invaluable role in helping to deliver three prized recruits to the Blue Devils in 2002.
In the summer before her senior year of high school, Waagbo successfully made the U.S. Under-19 Women’s Lacrosse World Cup team. The original 26-person squad spent the rest of the summer training in Durham and playing in various tournaments until a final 16-player traveling roster was determined.
Having already committed to Duke shortly before the tryouts, Waagbo used the opportunity to convince some of her closest teammates to stay in Durham and play for the Blue Devils once they finished high school.
“I found out that Waagbo was coming to Duke at our U-19 tryouts,” sophomore Rachel Sanford said. “I’m thinking, if I come to Duke we’re going to have the sickest class. I ended up committing to Duke that night.”
Following Sanford’s signing, the new Blue Devil duo set out trying to convince two other teammates, attacker Leigh Jester and midfielder Michelle Menser, to join them at Duke.
“We all kind of heard about [their commitment decisions] through the grapevine,” Menser said. “Rachel was my roommate in the weekend of our first tournament. Her and Waags tried to coerce me a little bit into Duke, and I had the opportunity to get to know them a little bit.”
Before long, Waagbo accomplished her mission as both Menser and Jester signed with the Blue Devils, securing the foundation of a freshman class that would prove to be among the most tightly-knit of any in the history of the program.
By the time the World Cup rolled around in the summer of 2003, the foursome’s plans for the Fall were put on the back burner as they finally set out on their quest to win the IFWLA Championship. Their wishes were met as the team’s long journey culminated in a 21-8 win over Australia in the championship game in Towson, Md. During the match, Waagbo tied two other teammates for a game-high four goals, while Sanford added a hat trick of her own.
“That’s probably the biggest thrill I’ve had in lacrosse,” Waagbo said.
More importantly, however, was the knowledge that the relationships forged during their travels with the U-19 team would become stronger once they arrived at Duke just a few weeks later.
“It was very special to play in a very intense environment before college with them,” Sanford said. “But it was even more exciting to know that I would be able to play with them for another four years.”
The class’ chemistry on the field has paid huge dividends for the Blue Devils who are 9-2 and ranked second in the country. Waagbo, Jester and Sanford are second, third and fourth on the team in points, respectively, while Menser is on track to surpass her 22-point total from last season.
Once they get off the field, the group continues to remain the best of friends. The foursome share a block together on West Campus and spend most of their free time with one another and with the three other members of their class.
“When we think back to our U-19 days we always laugh about how we didn’t really know each other and the silly things we did,” Sanford said. “Now, we’re so much closer.”
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