Krystin Porcella used to be a guest at weekend lacrosse tournaments, scouring the country for prospective student-athletes as an assistant at Virginia Tech and then her alma mater, Loyola.
She focused on evaluating players, but she found herself unable to ignore the simple joy participants often exhibited while playing the game they love on warm summer days with plush green grass beneath them. She had a thought about the whole scene: “I could do that.”
Fast-forward roughly 15 years, and Porcella’s company, Top of the Bay Sports, represents one of the premier girls’ lacrosse tournament operators in the country. US Lacrosse in 2017 granted Top of the Bay status as a partner in the national governing body’s sanctioned tournament program, an initiative to raise the quality of the youth tournament experience and publicize events that meet operational criteria developed by US Lacrosse and industry experts.
“Our focus is on the quality of experience for the players, and being a part of the US Lacrosse sanctioning program gives us that credit,” Porcella said.
One step better, Top of the Bay designated a few of its events this year as qualifiers for the US Lacrosse Nationals, a season-ending tournament that brings together many of the best teams among US Lacrosse’s 300,000-plus youth members. The 10th annual tournament will welcome 14U, 13U and 12U boys’ and girls’ squads to DE Turf Sports Complex in Frederica, Del., Aug. 2-5. Teams will earn bids based on how many points they earn through nearly 50 qualifiers in the 2017-18 season.
“Everyone wants to be a part of it,” Porcella, coach of the 2011 FIL world champion U.S. U19 women’s team, said. “The national component to it is exciting — here’s the schedule; here’s the process if you want to be No. 1.”
Porcella’s outgoing personality manifests in several Top of the Bay events, but she may not be at this point had she not been able to transition to a different role in lacrosse after a tough personal loss — as the one in 2003 represented to many involved in the sport.
That summer, during the US Lacrosse-hosted FIL U19 world championships, in fact, longtime Loyola coach Diane Geppi-Aikens passed away from cancer. Porcella then was an assistant for the Greyhounds, helping them reach the NCAA semifinals under a wheelchair-bound Geppi-Aikens that emotional season.
“I knew I was done with college coaching after Diane died,” Porcella, a former All-American defender and two-sport athlete at Loyola, said.
She went home and took a job teaching and coaching at alma mater John Carroll (Md.) School, while recalling her recruiting-required visits to summer tournaments. Out of those memories and the five athletic fields at John Carroll came the genesis of Top of the Bay, so named as Harford and Cecil represent the two northern-most counties in Maryland that border the Chesapeake Bay.
“In 2004, our first Summer Showcase had 12 teams,” Porcella said. “We tried one in the fall (Lax Clash) and got 11, including from Connecticut. But we stuck with it. We talked to people and figured out the marketplace.”
Nine years ago, Cedar Lane Regional Park opened in Harford County, featuring a dozen athletic fields. It hosted the first US Lacrosse Nationals (then U15 National Championships) in July 2009. Top of the Bay moved most of its events there, getting the field space it needed to take off.
This summer and fall, Top of the Bay will host four qualifiers for the US Lacrosse Nationals at the facility, providing ample opportunities for teams to earn points on the road to Delaware.
Through it all, Porcella has tried to keep the focus on the players and the fun. Laxin’ Out Loud, for example, places DJs at fields and includes dance contests, spirit awards and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Coaches Sportsmanship Awards. Top of the Bay also endeavors to match teams of similar ability levels, often times contesting three divisions in each age group and working with coaches to place teams appropriately. No one enjoys blowouts.
“It’s a very professional organization,” Mike Farrell, co-director of the Maryland-based TLC club program, said. “They do a great job for the kids and keeping it all about them.”
Farrell routinely brings TLC teams to Top of the Bay events, sometimes finding an accommodating home in a pinch.
“We got in bind this year with some of our middle school-age teams, trying to support a good cause at one tournament but a couple others had bailed,” Farrell said. “Krystin helped us at the 11th hour to get our teams into her tournament so our kids could have a place to play.”
That’s no surprise given that providing kids a fun, high-quality place to play has been at the top of the list for Top of the Bay for 15 years.