As the University of Maryland women's lacrosse class of 2018 makes its final journey through the NCAA Tournament, there's a lot for the group to be nostalgic about. Now is not the time, though.
If Maryland's seniors have learned anything during their four years under head coach Cathy Reese, an 11-time national champion as a player and coach, it's to focus on playing the best lacrosse they possibly can.
"It's crazy how fast the four years fly by," Maryland senior Tewaaraton Award nominee and team captain Megan Whittle (McDonogh) said. "I'm really proud of our senior class and am excited for our last go-round. The last four years we've been a pretty dominant group, but I feel like there's so much more still to come. Being with this team I've learned to take things one day at a time and to just enjoy being with the team and my best friends."
Those four years have been packed with achievements and accolades for the Terps' seniors. The group helped Maryland capture four regular-season Big Ten championships, two Big Ten Tournament titles and two national championships. They also were part of last year's undefeated team that went 23-0 and led the Terps to an 84-3 record during the past four seasons entering the NCAA Tournament.
Individually, Whittle became Maryland's all-time leading goal scorer this season and entered the NCAAs with 287 goals, third in NCAA history. She's also a three-time All-American, a three-time all-region selection, a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, a Big Ten All-Tournament selection and the Big Ten Attack Player of the Year.
Also a team captain, attacker Taylor Hensh (Marriotts Ridge) entered the postseason with 75 goals in 65 career games, while fellow attacker Kacie Longo (Garrison Forest) had 35 goals in 60 outings.
On the defensive side, Julia Legar (Garrison Forest) has been a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. Alex McKay had started 43 games and earned Academic All Big-Ten accolades three times. Steff Holmes (McDonogh) missed a year because of an injury but has had 27 career appearances. Reserve goalie Emma Moss (North Hagerstown) was a 2017 Academic All-Big Ten pick.
The other senior, Kathy Rudkin, transferred from Syracuse for her final season and brings a fresh outlook to the postseason. She was a five-time member of the Athletic Director's Honor Roll playing for the Orange, and has appeared in 89 career games. Rudkin has become a key component for one of the nation's top defensive units.
"They are all so different and each one of them brings something unique and special to the team," Reese said of her seniors. "But that's where we are as a team. We are able to bring together all sorts of different personalities who happen to be amazing lacrosse players and athletes with different strengths and weaknesses to become the most complete team we can possibly be."
In spite of all the accolades and championships, the players struggle when it comes to what they will remember most about their time at Maryland. Usually the conversation moves away from athletic accomplishments and toward the friendships and family atmosphere.
"We are all completely different," Hensh said. "But we are all pretty chill people who kind of just roll with whatever comes our way, so that helps us stay good friends. Getting the opportunity to not be forced to hang out with my teammates, but wanting to do it on my own off the field has been amazing. I'm so glad that we like each other so much that we choose to spend our time off the field pretty much 24/7 with each other."
The off-the-field camaraderie translates to an on-field chemistry that has become nearly impossible to beat. Maryland, ranked second in the nation and 18-1 overall, lost its only game of the season, 16-15, in overtime to North Carolina Feb. 24. The Terps had reeled off 16 straight victories since then, but had been unable to overtake unbeaten Stony Brook for their usual top spot in the national rankings.
"Our senior class has only lost three games in four years," Whittle said. "It's really incredible. Not many programs in the nation can say that. That loss brought us together early in the year and made us stronger and want to improve every day and against every single opponent we played so that hopefully we will peak at the right time."
The national polls don't matter to Reese. What's important is the process of improving every day and getting her team mentally and physically prepared to be at its best the next time it takes the field.
"It all depends on how you do in that one game," Reese said. "And at the end of the day, you play all season to get better and put yourself in position to win. I'm just excited to see us try to put together the best possible game of lacrosse that we can every time we play. The seniors have accomplished a lot here. They've grown up a lot as people and players. Now that we're down to this last little bit for them, hopefully they are ready to play the best lacrosse of their careers."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Issue 244: May 2018