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Erica Evans is leading the Canisius Golden Griffins into the NCAA lacrosse tournament

Becoming a lacrosse star was almost a birthright for Canisius College’s Erica Evans.

Her father, David, says he never put a lacrosse stick in her baby crib. But she was playing organized box lacrosse at the ripe age of 4.

Now she’s 20, and she’s making one of Ontario’s great lacrosse families proud. Evans is Canisius’ sophomore superstar and will lead the Golden Griffins against 13th-ranked Cornell in Ithaca on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Tournament.

Evans is the No. 2 goal-scorer in the nation, with 69 goals in 19 games.

“Erica has been phenomenal this year,” said Canisius coach Scott Teeter. “She keeps raising the bar and keeps impressing me every single time she steps on the field.”

Who would expect anything less from an Evans from Peterborough, Ont?

Her cousin, Shawn Evans, is one of the top lacrosse players in the world. He leads the New England Black Wolves of the National Lacrosse League and was the NLL’s most valuable player in 2013 and 2015. Three of her uncles – Paul, Doug and Kevin – played in the NHL and also were star lacrosse players. Three other cousins are current or former NLL players. Her father is not too shabby, either. He played on two teams that won the Canadian senior national championship (the Mann Cup) and one team that won the Canadian Junior national championship (the Minto Cup).

All told, 11 members of the Evans clan have shared in at least 20 Minto Cups and 24 Mann Cups.

“My dad was always in the backyard passing with me,” Erica said. “I’ve passed with a few of my cousins but never really played games with them. When the family gets together, we play football mostly.”

“Her hand-eye skills, catching the ball, and throwing the ball came pretty easy to her,” David Evans said. “She picked it up pretty easily like the rest of us did. And it helped watching my nephews play on the way up.”

Peterborough, about three hours from Buffalo, is one of the top hotbeds of lacrosse in North America. Evans is the fifth Peterborough product Teeter has recruited to play for the Griffs.

Growing up playing box lacrosse is an advantage for Evans and other Canadians when they move to field lacrosse.

“Usually indoor lacrosse players have superior stick skills,” Teeter said. “Erica has those superior stick skills. However, her attribute that separates her from most Division I lacrosse players is her speed. She can use those stick skills at a high speed. When she gets in open field, there’s not too many players who can catch her.”

Teeter identified Evans as a recruiting target early on, and she committed to Canisius early in her junior year of high school.

“She just left people on full-field runs and could track people down,” Teeter said. “Knowing her background coming from such a great lacrosse family, I knew we had something special. ... We had her committed before some of the bigger teams noticed her.”

Evans also visited Ohio State, but the Buckeyes did not make her an offer. She wanted to become a teacher and liked Canisius’ academic program.

“It just seemed like home, having so many people I knew here,” Evans said, referring to other Griffs from Peterborough.

Evans was Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rookie of the year and midfielder of the year as a freshman last season. She had 38 goals, 47 points and 29 draw controls in 18 games.

This year in addition to her 69 goals, she has 89 points and 73 draw controls for the 13-6 Griffs. Her point total is sixth in the nation. Her draw controls rank 18th in the nation.

Evans was boosted by a strong summer in which she helped Canada to the Under-19 World Championship in Scotland. Teeter coached the team. Evans had 24 goals in seven games and made the all-tournament squad.

“Team Canada was a special group of girls, so talented,” Evans said. “I thrived off their confidence, and I think that helped my game. I wanted to bring that to this team.”

Canisius graduated its all-time leading scorer, Tori Quinn, last season. Then senior team leader Ashley Bull was lost for the season to a knee injury in the opening game at Michigan.

“For our senior leader to go down with an injury was a big blow,” Teeter said. “But we tended to get better in that game and gave a good Michigan team a run. And it was led by Erica. She stood up at that point and hasn’t looked back.”

The Griffs earned their fifth MAAC title in six years last week.

“As a freshman I knew I was more of a role player,” Evans said. “This year I knew I had to step up. It’s a testament to my team. They’re the ones that create the lanes and give me the feeds into the middle. I’m just able to finish.”

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com