- Name: Katie Burnet
- Age: 23
- Organization: Meredith College, Apex High School
(Photo courtesy: Katie Burnet.)
Author: Patrick Kinas, DNAOfSports.com creator.
A rising lacrosse star known across the Triangle after assisting Apex to a pair of state titles, she was armed with a D-I scholarship. Just months before setting foot on campus, her head coach abruptly left. She was homesick, injured and disappointed, and ready to give up her stick for good. Standing at a crossroads in her life, she turned to someone she could trust.
She turned to her grandma.
Maga’s advice that would indirectly turn the Meredith lacrosse program into champions.
Now, back on the field with a fresh start, she’s setting the USA South Conference on fire for Division III Meredith College.
Katie Burnet took up lacrosse in the seventh grade. Swimming was her initial passion, but once introduced to the growing sport in the South, she was hooked. She started playing at the Apex Sports Authority, then advanced to the Carolina Fever area club team.
“I swam all throughout my life,” Burnet said. “I thought swimming was the sport for me.”
Her brother Kevin was the first of the Burnet clan to take up the sport, and after the Apex boys team won the state championship in 2005, Apex started the girl’s program the following year, with the program growing steadily prior to Burnet’s first season in 2009.
“Our freshman year, we had a lot of talent and I made varsity and we ended up winning the state title that year,” Burnet “From there, we won state again during my junior year and they’ve continued to have a strong program since.”
Burnet spent four years as a starter for the Cougars, while garnering 1st Team All-America status. Burnet wanted to stay close to home, and in the spring of her junior year at Apex, accepted a scholarship to Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, about 130 miles north of Apex. The Lancers transitioned to Division I status in 2007, which meant Burnet would have a portion of her college paid for by playing the game she loved since she was 12.
The decision was made.
But before Burnet even arrived on the campus of nearly 5,000 students, things had drastically changed. Change is the only constant in college coaching, and Longwood was no exception.
Recruited to Longwood by head coach Missy Ackerman and assistant Wendy Stone, they both were gone before the start of Burnet’s freshman year.
Ackerman departed for an A.D. job at Saint Gertrude High School, while Stone bolted to become the head lacrosse coach at Niagara University. The Lancers’ players were told that the school was actively searching for a head coach.
To make matters worse, Burnet arrived on campus with a knee injury, had trouble adjusting to the rural atmosphere and soon found herself looking for a way out.
“I really just wanted to come back home,” Burnet said. “I wasn’t a fan of the area. I liked the team there, but everything else I just disliked. It was tough to leave friendships I had made.”
College is about learning experiences, and Burnet can definitely chalk one up in that column.
After never suiting up for a game for the Lancers, Burnet left after her first semester.
The bond connecting Katie and her grandmother was as tight as the names that inversely cement them together.
Kathryn Jean was named after her grandmother, Jean Kathryn Forlini, who her family affectionately called “Maga.”
Burnet remembers fondly the special talks they shared, particularly one as she was planning for the next challenging phase of her life after leaving Longwood.
“After I left Longwood, I had planned on moving back home, going to Wake Tech, then transferring to Appalachian State,” Burnet said.
“I was going to give up lacrosse forever.”
But then Burnet had a conversation with Maga that shifted the course of her future.
“During my transition, my grandmother (Maga) was very sick, and I was up in Pennsylvania with her,” Burnet recalled.
“She asked me if I was going to regret giving up lacrosse.”
Then an odd twist of fate occurred. While sitting with Maga at her hospice, Katie’s phone rang.
“It was from an area code I didn’t recognize, so I let it go to voice mail.”
The voice mail was from the lacrosse head coach (Lauren Scott) at Meredith, a school just beginning a program.
“I was hesitant to return this phone call since I didn’t want to repeat a similar experience like the one I had at Longwood, but I immediately called her back. It was a brand new program and she was asking if I’d be interested in coming to Meredith.”
“It was quite a surprise to me.”
Burnet’s first question was to ask how in the world that Coach Scott knew she was even available.
“She had some of my old teammates from my high school on campus,” Burnet said. “A few of them shared with her that I had left Longwood and told Coach Scott that I was living in Apex.”
The Meredith program was in its infancy. Scott was tasked with recruiting student-athletes to comprise a team for USA South Conference competition only three months later. Scott would jigsaw the roster together with raw athletes with no previous experience of playing lacrosse – soccer players, basketball players, anyone else who could respectably fill out the roster.
Burnet, the potential Meredith centerpiece, would be a coup, and give the program some immediate credibility.
There were several obvious obstacles, not the least of which was that Burnet hadn’t even applied for admission to Meredith.
After realizing that Maga was right, that she would miss the game, Burnet realized that her love for lacrosse, her Triangle friends, her family and her desire for an urban atmosphere were all coalescing.
But still, the clock was ticking.
“It was a last minute decision,” Burnet said. “I was talking to Coach, but campus was closing in three days for winter break. There were no students around, no administration, nothing. I had to get my application in, but no admissions offices were open. They had to accept me over the break.”
“I actually went to my first class at Wake Tech, but that night, we got a phone call from the financial aid representative at Meredith. I was in.”
Barely six weeks later, Burnet scored a team-high two goals in Meredith’s first-ever lacrosse match, falling to Piedmont College.
If players in USA South were snubbing their noses at the brand new Avenging Angels program, it wouldn’t last long.
Burnet made certain of that.
In her first season, Burnet posted 72 points, supported by 55 goals and was named USA South Lacrosse Rookie of the Year. This past season, Burnet was named USA South Player of the Year, broke a pair of conference single-season records and led Meredith to an overtime conference championship victory over Piedmont, and an NCAA berth against northern power Susquehanna.
The Angels had improved their record from 5-10 to 14-4, and from 4-4 in USA South to 8-1, all in the matter of 15 months of cobbling the program together.
Burnet scored 123 points and accounted for nearly 33% of Meredith’s goals, netting 86 winners.
Unfortunately for the conference, Burnet has two more years of eligibility remaining and the Angels are going to be even stronger.
The next goal for the Angels is to knock off the paragons from the North.
“To play against a northern team, with players who have been playing since they were kids, is a whole different level,” Burnet said. “Most of our team had been started with players when they came to Meredith. Up there, they’ve been playing their whole lives.”
“They have really talented players. It was definitely fun to play against Susquehanna to see what it’s like. They played all-around, well-developed lacrosse.”
Burnet also realizes the unique position she’s in to help mold a program, but the exercise science major is aware of her leadership role in Meredith’s future.
“I hope in this area that women’s lacrosse athletes will understand the demand of Division I athletics. Division III is an opportunity to be a student-athlete, where at Division I, I believe you’re an athlete-student. Meredith provides opportunities to gain other experiences. I ran cross country in high school, and a few weeks before last summer, I approached coach to ask if I could go out for the cross country team. They said ‘sure’. The opportunity to play two sports and still have time to engage in other extracurricular activities is an opportunity you don’t get everywhere.”
“I don’t ever regret it. I like where I am.”
Every day she walks across Meredith’s downtown Raleigh, NC campus, Katie is reminded of that lasting conversation she had with Maga. On the verge of giving up her love for lacrosse, Maga guided her back.
On December 22, 2012, just 16 days before Katie officially enrolled at Meredith, Maga passed away.
She’s reminded of her by the name she is called, and the lacrosse stick still in her hand.