Throughout its 41-year history, the University of Maryland women's lacrosse team has been a major factor in the growing popularity of the sport. The Terps began playing in 1974, when the expansion of women's athletics was in its infancy. They ruled the game from the mid-1990s through the early-2000s, winning seven straight NCAA t itles.
Maryland has recently reminded the college lacrosse world of its enduring excellence. On May 24, the Terps won their second consecutive national championship and 12th overall by holding off longtime rival North Carolina, 9-8, during a tightly contested title game.
"All season long, they were getting everybody's best game," head coach Cathy Reese said. "We went through a rough spot in our season, and the loss to Ohio State [in the Big Ten tournament] woke us up. We were down by three goals at the half [of the title game], but kept fighting back and found a way to win against a great team in North Carolina. That showed [our] mental toughness, [our] ability to stay in the moment."
Maryland midfielder Taylor Cummings, the most dominant player in collegiate lacrosse, repeated as the Tewaaraton Award winner. Cummings totaled 63 goals, 37 assists, 143 draw controls, and 36 caused turnovers during Maryland's championship season and earned first-team Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse College Association All-America honors for the third straight year. During her senior season, Cummings could become the first women's player to win the nation's top lacrosse award three times.
"Taylor does it all," Reese said. "She's dominant in the middle of the field and always gives us her best. She's determined, competitive and a great teammate, which is more important than anything else."
While Cummings is in position to make history in 2016, her team still has a ways to go to match the seven consecutive championships Maryland earned a generation ago. Under the direction of head coach Cindy Timchal and assistant coach Gary Gait, that golden era of Maryland women's lacrosse produced a 140-5 record that included undefeated seasons in 1995, 1996, 1999 and 2001.
During that time, Maryland produced some of the best players in its history. Jen Adams, now the head coach at Loyola University, was a four-time All-American from 1998-2001 and the winner of the first Tewaaraton Award. Adams, who still holds the school's career records for goals (267), assists (178) and points (445), was a three-time National Player of the Year. Adams' teammates included Allison Comito and Quinn Carney, who each totaled 265 points in four seasons.
Kelly Amonte Hiller accumulated 187 goals and 319 points during her Maryland years from 1993-96 and earned National Player of the Year awards in 1995 (Defensive) and 1996 (Offensive). Four other Maryland players during that seven-year period earned national awards: Liz Downing Monte (Defensive Player, 1996), Sarah Forbes (Offensive Player, 1997), Tonia Porras (Defensive Player, 2000) and Alex Kahoe (Goalkeeper, 2000).
But Maryland's recent national title winners match up well with those championship squads. During the 2015 campaign, the Terps completed their third title-winning season in six years with a 21-1 record. Maryland has won 44 of 46 games during the last two seasons.
Reese has a unique perspective on the two eras of excellence. She was a two-time All-American for the Terps' from 1995-98, and has coached the current squad to consecutive titles.
"Those teams [from 1995-2001] were super tough and found ways to win," Reese said. "You have to appreciate how hard Cindy and Gary worked with them."
But the sport has changed. The expansion of women's lacrosse to areas across the nation has led to a much larger NCAA tournament field.
"The growth of the game has been crazy," said Reese, who also guided the 2010 Terps to the NCAA title. "I didn't start playing until the seventh grade, but players are starting much earlier now. There was a six-team NCAA tournament in my freshman year, and the top two seeds got a bye right into the Final Four. Now, you have a 26-team tournament with schools from all over, like Notre Dame, Stanford and Florida."
It's never been more difficult to win an NCAA title. There are more talented players to go around, and the byes to championship weekend are gone.
"To even be in a position to compete for a national championship is incredible," Reese said. "The back-to-back titles are something that we'll always be proud of. We have players coming back who have had tremendous success in this program, and it should be another fun year."