ADAMS — Megan Whitley and Mia Buckingham of South Jefferson have played lacrosse together ever since they were youngsters, back in elementary school.
So fittingly, the longtime friends who have dedicated so many years to the sport will be playing lacrosse at the Division I level.
“It’s crazy, we’ve been playing with each other since we were (in the) second grade,” Buckingham said. “And now we’re going to be playing against each other, because UAlbany and UConn play against each other. It’s going to be hard, but it’s also going to be so much fun.”
“We’ve been best friends since then,” Whitley said.
Whitley, a midfielder, signed her national letter of intent Friday to attend the University of Connecticut in a signing ceremony at the South Jefferson High School auditorium.
“I guess I never really imagined myself being good enough to do that,” Whitley said of earning a scholarship. “But now being able to work hard enough to get to that spot has been like, just unimaginable.”
Buckingham, a forward, will sign her national letter intent to attend the University at Albany on Monday.
“Right when I stepped on the campus, I just absolutely loved the school,” Buckingham said. “The coaches are so nice and just their coaching style fits so well with me. And how welcoming they were into the Albany community.”
Both seniors have been starters and instrumental in the Spartans’ success on the lacrosse field as the team won its first Section 3 title in girls lacrosse when they were sophomores, with the Spartans reaching a state semifinal.
“I’m proud of both of these girls,” South Jefferson coach Jen Williams said. “They’ve both worked so hard to get to this point.”
“Really, it’s just the way I was brought up,” said Whitley, referencing her parents Jim and Michelle, both varsity girls basketball coaches at Indian River and South Jefferson, respectively.
Last season, the Spartans advanced to another Section 3 final and were edged out by Skaneateles in a one-goal decision.
“Absolutely, it’s always our goal to win sectionals and make it to states,” Buckingham said. “We came so close last year, literally one goal.”
Megan Whitley plays three sports for the Spartans, including soccer and basketball, but lacrosse emerged as her main sport. Megan Whitley totaled 25 goals and five assists last season in lacrosse, and has generated 96 points in her varsity career, including 80 goals.
“My freshman year playing lacrosse here, I realized that I actually was better than I thought I was,” Megan Whitley said. “And just being able to grow and progressively get better and better, I was like ‘I can probably do this and get to a D-I college and hold my ground and make a statement out there.’”
Megan Whitley feels the environment at UConn was similar to that of her hometown of Adams with a small-town like atmosphere.
“UConn was definitely the best fit for me, it wasn’t too big, it wasn’t too small,” Whitley said. “It has that tight-knit, family-like atmosphere that I’ve always had here and wanted in college, too.”
Buckingham has played soccer at South Jefferson and is also on the girls basketball team.
Buckingham scored 33 goals and assisted on nine others last season and has compiled 115 points over three seasons, including 93 goals. She also likes the UAlbany campus and already knows what she wants to study at the school.
“It has everything I need,” Buckingham said. “I want to go into the medical field and I’m going to be a (biology) major and it’s perfect for what I want to do.”
UConn’s roster sports several athletes from Section 3, including Watertown’s Olivia Miles, who is in her senior year at the school.
“The program there is very inviting and she knew how to make it enjoyable and make it fun,” Megan Whitley said of UConn head coach Katie Woods. “But also teach you something, which I’ve had a pleasure of my whole high school career with coach Williams. ... South Jeff and UConn are very similar in some ways.”
South Jeff grad Lara Podvin attends UAlbany, as well as several other Section 3 athletes, including Immaculate Heart Central grad Amanda McEhleran.
“It’s a really nice place,” Buckingham said. “I just thought stepping onto that turf, it will be like playing in the big leagues.”
Among recent South Jefferson graduates, Mackenzie Alexander is attending Syracuse University to play lacrosse, as are Molly Hall, Paige Crandall and Savannah Fish at Division II Le Moyne.
Spartans grad Morgan Alexander is a redshirt senior at Syracuse, while former teammate Sidney Hall is in her senior year at Le Moyne.