The University of Maryland has captured three of the last six NCAA women's lacrosse championships, including consecutive titles in 2014 and 2015. With the sport's most accomplished player returning this season, the Terps could be headed for another Final Four appearance on Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia.
Despite heavy graduation losses, Maryland still has senior midfielder Taylor Cummings.
A two-time winner of the Tewaaraton Award as the nation's best collegiate player, Cummings has been the catalyst for Terps teams that have recorded a 66-3 record and made three consecutive trips to the national championship game during the last three seasons. Cummings' outstanding 2015 campaign included 63 goals, 37 assists, 143 draw controls and 36 caused turnovers.
But head coach Cathy Reese will have to replace offensive stalwarts Brooke Griffin (47 goals, 20 assists), Kelly McPartland (32 goals, 17 feeds) and Kristen Lamon (24 goals, 11 assists) from a team that finished with a 21-1 record and beat North Carolina for the national title. The defensive unit lost two-time All-American Megan Douty, along with Casey Pepperman and Shanna Brady and goalkeeper Alex Fitzpatrick.
"We're young, with not a lot of experience," said Reese, who earned Coach of the Year honors from the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association for the third time. "We'll definitely have a different look from last year."
Cummings will again be the team leader, and the Terps will have other experienced offensive options in sophomore attacker Megan Whittle (team-leading 67 goals, five assists) and junior midfielder Zoe Stukenberg (38 goals, 22 assists). The defensive unit will be led by senior All-American Alice Mercer and junior Nadine Hadnagy.
"Taylor is such an amazing player, and we'll need her leadership skills to help the younger players be the best that they can be," Reese said. "Megan had a great freshman year playing alongside Brooke Griffin and Kelly McPartland, and she will become more of a complete attacker this season. Zoe is a leader who understands the game, and Alice is such a competitor and one of the best defenders that I've seen."
Maryland will be challenged by one of the nation's toughest schedules. The Terps, who open the campaign against visiting William & Mary Feb. 13, will face 11 teams that played in the 2015 NCAA tournament. Maryland will meet its two toughest opponents on the road, with trips to Final Four participants North Carolina Feb. 27 and Syracuse March 12. During its second year in the Big Ten, Maryland will be challenged by Northwestern, Penn State and Ohio State.
"We'll need a lot of strong leadership this year," Reese said. "North Carolina and Syracuse are always two of the top teams in the nation, and the Big Ten is just continuing to get better."
While Maryland tries to stay on top, several Division I schools in the Baltimore area will contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Loyola will try to reach the NCAAs again, while Navy, Towson and UMBC should be in the hunt for conference titles.
The Blue Jays, who finished 14-4 last season, appear primed to return to the NCAA tournament after being ousted in the first round by Penn State, 14-11. Johns Hopkins is led by senior midfielder Dene' DiMartino, who tallied a team-high 52 points (40 goals, 12 assists) and 58 draw controls to go with 18 ground balls last season. Also returning and joining DiMartino on the midfield is sophomore Emily Kenul, an Inside Lacrosse's All-Rookie team selection, who started all 18 games. Senior Josie George (team-high 34 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers), and fellow senior Kirsti Paavola (25 ground balls, 11 caused turnovers) will anchor a solid defensive unit. Those two will provide support for junior goalie Caroline Federico, who posted an 8.07 goals-against average.
Head coach Janine Tucker's group opens the campaign against Marquette Feb. 13 and will receive one of its biggest tests when it travels to two-time defending national champion Maryland April 6.
Loyola has made five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and reached the quarterfinals last spring before falling to Syracuse. But the Greyhounds must rebuild after losing their top six scorers from a 17-5 team that won its second consecutive Patriot League title. Head coach Jen Adams must replace a group of seniors that included Kara Burke, Annie Thomas, Hannah Schmitt, Taryn VanThof, Molly Hulseman and Sydney Thomas, who combined for 242 goals and 129 assists. The top returning scorer is senior midfielder Maddy Blakeman, who totaled 17 goals last season. The Greyhounds should be strong at the defensive end, with two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Maddy Lesher and senior goalkeeper Molly Wolf.
Loyola, which opens its season at Florida Feb. 6, will travel to Syracuse Feb. 14 for a rematch of their NCAA quarterfinal. The Greyhounds host Patriot League runner-up Navy March 19.
Navy is coming off a 15-5 season, which included a 6-2 Patriot League mark and a loss to Loyola in the conference championship game. Head coach Cindy Timchal will have to replace one of the program's best players in Loren Generi, who led the Midshipmen with 57 goals and 29 assists. Casey Browne (21 goals, seven assists) and goalkeeper Annie Foky (7.59 goals-allowed average) also graduated. Navy will be strong on attack, with senior Katie Gallagher (38 goals, 23 assists), junior Morgan Young (30 goals, seven feeds) and sophomore Julia Collins (27 goals, seven assists). Sophomore midfielder Jenna Collins (25 goals, 10 assists) is another effective scoring option. Senior Lizzy Rullan will anchor the defensive unit for the Midshipmen, who begin the campaign at Virginia Tech Feb. 5 and visit defending Patriot League champion Loyola March 19.
Towson's streak of three consecutive postseason appearances was snapped during last spring's 9-9 campaign. The Tigers, who went 3-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association and lost to James Madison in the league title game, lost top scorer Andi Raymond (37 goals, 27 assists), standout defender Michelle Dufault and goalkeeper Kelsea Donnelly. But head coach Sonia LaMonica will turn to junior midfielder Samantha Brookhart (11 goals, 19 assists), sophomore midfielder Kaitlyn Montalbano (16 goals, eight feeds) and junior attacker Gabby Cha (18 goals, three assists) to lead the Tigers' offense. Senior defender Emily Roth will anchor the back line. The Tigers will face a challenging schedule that opens with visiting Monmouth Feb. 10 and includes an April 24 home meeting with defending CAA champion James Madison.
UMBC went 8-9 overall and 3-3 in America East last spring. Head coach Amy Slade will have to replace Abby Wilson, who tied for the team scoring lead with 28 goals and 10 assists, and defenders Lexi Bristow and Tianna Wallpher (nine goals, six assists). But the Retrievers should be balanced at the offensive end. On attack, junior Sam Nolan (22 goals, 16 assists) and sophomore Carolyn Jamison (22 goals, eight assists) will return. In the midfield, UMBC will count on junior Jennie Milligan (23 goals, nine assists) and sophomore Marissa Davey (20 goals, seven feeds). The Retrievers, who will begin the season at Towson Feb. 17 and travel to defending America East champion Stony Brook April 6, will rely on junior Rachel Katzenberger and sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Major at the defensive end.
Stevenson, which finished with a 12-7 record and lost to Messiah in the Commonwealth Conference championship game last season, will return three of its top five scorers. Head coach Kathy Railey will rely on junior midfielder Olivia Monteiro (42 goals, 17 assists), junior attacker Brady Heher (24 goals, five assists) and senior midfielder Carli Bafford (20 goals, seven feeds) to ignite a Mustangs offense that will have to replace top scorer Kathryn Merrick (48 goals, 15 assists). Stevenson will also have to fill the holes left by the graduations of standout defender Meg Gill and goalkeeper Leanne Bittner (8.72 goals-allowed average). The Mustangs will host rival Salisbury during their Feb. 20 season opener and will visit defending conference titlist Messiah April 20.