When the previously undefeated Maryland women's lacrosse team suffered a 13-7 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Division I championship game May 29, it marked the end of Taylor Cummings' collegiate lacrosse career.
For the first time in three years, the sport's most prolific player and her teammates weren't holding the championship trophy.
But Cummings will be remembered for her all-around excellence and her consistency. After four years at the school she always wanted to play for, Cummings is leaving Maryland as one of the most accomplished players in the history of the women's game. And her teammates will remember the midfielder from Ellicott City, Md., as one of the finest people they have ever known.
"Taylor is the world's best teammate," junior midfielder Zoe Stukenberg said. "Who Taylor is as a person really defines her as a player. It's easy to imagine someone who gets so many awards and accolades getting a big head and focusing on themselves, but that has never even crossed Taylor's mind. She is 100 percent committed to the Terps and would do anything for us to win."
Cummings, a midfielder, became one of the few players in collegiate history to be named a first-team All-American four times. She is only the third Maryland women's lacrosse player to earn All-American honors in four consecutive years, joining past Terps greats Kelly Amonte Hiller (1993-96) and Katie Schwarzmann (2010-13) on that select list. Cummings was also the first three-time recipient of the Tewaaraton Award as the sport's best player.
"Taylor deserves every ounce of recognition that she gets, and she handles it with such class and poise," said Stukenberg, who closed the 2016 campaign as Maryland's third-leading scorer with 49 goals and 16 assists. "She's one of the hardest-working players I've ever met."
A member of the U.S. national team, Cummings ended her college career as one of the top scorers in Maryland's rich history. Cummings finished third with 229 goals, while her 94 assists placed her ninth in Maryland annals. Her 323 career points are second only to former Maryland great Jen Adams, who put up 267 goals, 178 assists and 445 points from 1998-2001. The talented midfielder was also dominant in the draw circle, setting the school record with 509 draw controls in four seasons.
Cummings was required to shoulder more responsibility during each of her four seasons at Maryland.
"When I came in as a freshman, I think I was trying to figure out my place with so many incredible older players on the team," Cummings said. "As a sophomore, I became more comfortable with my role, but during those two years, I was definitely more offensive-minded.
"My junior year, the coaches asked me to play more defense, which definitely wasn't the most natural thing for me, but we had a great defensive group that I was able to play with. And then returning just five starters my senior year, I think I had to step up as a leader and help acclimate not just the freshmen but the sophomores and juniors who maybe hadn't played that much before."
As a senior, Cummings took on greater responsibility at both ends of the field for a team that lost four All-Americans from the 2015 squad that won a second consecutive NCAA championship. After leading all NCAA Division I scorers with 100 points during the 2015 season, Cummings continued her impressive work at the offensive end, finishing second among Terp scorers with 79 points (60 goals, 19 assists). The team's co-captain also paced the squad with 52 caused turnovers, and she set a Maryland single-season record with 144 draw controls.
During her four years at Maryland, Cummings was the catalyst for a program that posted an 88-4 record, made four consecutive NCAA title-game appearances and earned two national championships, a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference titles and a Big Ten crown. Maryland finished the 2016 season with a 22-1 record.
"Winning the national championship my sophomore and junior years was definitely the best moments of my career," Cummings said. "It's this indescribable feeling. It's happiness and satisfaction that you completed your goal, and then to do it with 30 of your best friends around you is just the greatest feeling."
But while the numbers are impressive, Terps head coach Cathy Reese said Cummings' value to the program goes way beyond her lofty statistics.
"You can't put into words what Taylor Cummings has meant to Maryland lacrosse," said Reese, who has guided the Terps to three NCAA titles during the last seven years. "She's been such a tremendous player who was great at both ends of the field. Taylor became one of the best defenders I've seen. Last year, we had a lot of seniors who were a year older and could take everyone else in. This year, it was Taylor and Alice [Mercer] who really became the anchors and backbone of this team. To be able to have them as leaders in our program has taken this group to this level."
Sophomore attacker Megan Whittle has seen Cummings at different stages of her career. Whittle and Cummings were teammates for two years at Baltimore's McDonogh School, and they were reunited at Maryland for the last two seasons.
"She's the best," said Whittle, a first-team All-American who led Maryland in scoring with 81 points (76 goals, five assists). "I've been very fortunate to have Taylor as a team captain at McDonogh and at Maryland. She is very good at keeping the energy up. She's all over the place on the field. She starts with the draw, makes great defensive stops, and she'll finish on her shots. Taylor puts her head down and just works. I'm really proud of her and everything she's accomplished."
While she has received high praise from many people in the lacrosse community, Cummings views her legacy in simple terms.
"I mostly want to be remembered as a good teammate and friend," said Cummings, who graduated from Maryland with a degree in finance. "All the individual rewards are great honors, but they're the product of me being part of a great team."
Issue 222: June 2016