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Maryland Women's Lacrosse: Where Fun Meets Winning

June 30, 2019
Seconds after Maryland secured its fourth women's lacrosse national championship in the last six seasons, Terrapin players ran en masse toward the stands at Homewood Field.

They jumped in among the most exuberant Maryland supporters in Johns Hopkins' plush lacrosse palace and continued their celebration of the 12-10 Memorial Day weekend "Revenge Tour" win against Boston College in the title tilt.

Boston College had ended the 2018 Terrapins' season in the national semifinals. This year in the semifinals Maryland blasted Northwestern -- the only team to beat the Terrapins in 2019 -- with a 25-13 victory.

Celebrating the Terrapins' 15th overall championship, there in seats -- though they rarely actually sat -- was a large group who understood the stakes, the pressure and the pure joy of championship weekend better than most. There were about 50 Maryland women's lacrosse alumni in one field-level section, though there were more in the stadium.

That the 2019 team, which finished 22-1, turned and ran so quickly to embrace their predecessors in the program spoke volumes about what recently-minted National Lacrosse Hall of Fame coach and, you guessed it, Maryland alumnus Cathy Reese has going in College Park, Md.

"We fed off their energy," Reese said. "Besides chanting our names half the time [during the games], their energy and support for the University of Maryland is powerful, and that speaks volumes to their experiences that they've had through their time. We needed them." 

If there's a lesson to be learned from all this, it's that championships beget championships. It has worked for the New England Patriots, who have established a winning culture, and ditto the Golden State Warriors. 

The same can perhaps be said for Maryland women's lacrosse, though more challengers have emerged lately as more and more young athletes pick up a stick and do anything but walk softly. Using the lacrosse-loving Old Line State as a recruiting base, the Terrapins year after year are on top or near the top of their sport. Of the 38 players on the 2019 roster, 29 hailed from Maryland, as did many of those alumni in the stands.

Senior Julia Braig (St. Paul's), the Big Ten Defender of the Year, led the charge to the alumni. Senior and scoring ace Caroline Steele (Severn) was there quickly, too, as were defensive dynamos Lizzie Colson (Manchester Valley) and Meghan Doherty (Mt. Hebron). Doherty, a redshirt junior, turned in one of the biggest plays in the championship against Boston College, drawing a charge on national scoring leader Sam Apuzzo with 1:10 remaining. Of Apuzzo's 94 goals this season, only two came against Maryland in the Eagles' lone meeting with the Terps.

Goalie Megan Taylor (Glenelg), the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, was the focal point of the on-field celebration, with teammates rushing to her as time expired. The senior had 10 saves against BC, as the Terps held the high-scoring Eagles nearly seven goals below their average. She had 24 saves in the final two games combined. Less than a week later, Taylor became the first goalkeeper, female or male, to earn the Tewaaraton Award as lacrosse's top player.

The Terrapins have forged a run under Reese that has seen them reach the last 11 Final Fours, play in eight title games and come away with the biggest piece of hardware five times, including twice in the last three years. The hugs between young alumni and current players continued a lacrosse lineage that goes back to when Reese was a player for Cindy Timchal, who once won seven straight titles at Maryland before giving way to her protégé.

And it all begs the question: How do the Terrapins do it? 

It's not that Reese keeps secrets, but she does have trouble tooting her own horn. That's OK, but how was this for a week for a coach: She won her fifth national championship, claimed her 300th and 301st career wins on the sport's grandest stage in the Terrapins' Baltimore backyard, and was named to the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Issue 255: Maryland Terps women's lacrosse: Cathy Reese after 2019 championship
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Obviously she has quite a sales pitch for lacrosse's most sought-after recruits, so many of whom are within a short College Park commute. But that's one thing. Melding together teams that compete for titles every year is another.

And it seems the answer might be so simple that you'd think more teams would take the same tact. Hang around Maryland women's lacrosse for a while and the constant seems to be everyone is having a good time.

Reese's approach is to create an environment where all this talent can grow and thrive and enjoy the competition with one another and ultimately, keep the fun going when the whistle blows on game day.

"Being able to have fun, play loose with all your best friends day in and day out, whether it's practice or it's a game, every single time I set foot on the field with this team, we're just having fun," Steele said after the championship. "You can't put the feeling into words."

The Terrapins tried to find the words after this championship, but talking about the fabric of this family made most misty. Reese broke down after hearing how so many of her players had said playing for her was the best four years of their lives.

"This season, in particular, has just been such an amazing time," senior Jen Giles (Mt. Hebron) said. "We're such a family. We started from Day One working for each other, playing for each other and having that carry through all season. We had so much fun together and celebrated every moment."

The one bump in the road came when conference archrival Northwestern beat the Terrapins, 16-11, in the Big Ten tournament championship. Then again, that kick in the rear proved well timed heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Junior attacker Kali Hartshorn scored back-to-back goals to trigger an 8-0 run to put away the Wildcats in the national semifinals, a game delayed by Boston College and North Carolina's double-overtime thriller and an untimely clock malfunction. Though the Terrapins didn't wrap their game until late May 24, they had to come back ready to go for the noon championship May 26.

Reese's program shined brightest with this further bit of adversity. Maryland's defense shut down the Eagles' offense, holding BC to a season-low 10 goals, and blanketed the most explosive scoring team in the country.

The Terrapins cleared 23 of 24 attempts after making stops against an aggressive, hard-riding squad coached by Maryland alum Acacia Walker-Weinstein. Maryland found offense even with leading scorer Erica Evans held scoreless, and her partners in crime up front, Giles and Steele, combining for just four goals.

Reese and the defenders, who turned in their best game of the season, credited assistant coach Lauri Kenis with the great defensive plan to stifle the Eagles' offense. Giles raved about the treatment from the trainers May 25 to prepare the team for the title game.

"Mandatory nap time by Cathy Reese," blurted out Steele, laughter beginning to replace tears of joy at the NCAA championship dais.

All in all, it was another highly successful year for the Terrapins en route to Reese's ultimate goals.

"I want everyone that comes through and plays for me to graduate and go on and say these were the best four years," an emotional Reese said. "I look back at my experience. I graduated in 1998, and playing for Maryland were the best four years of my life. That's friendships. ... I had amazing coaches and now I have the opportunity to impact these players and their experiences."

And to impact the entire world of lacrosse, turns out. 

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Issue 255: June/July 2019 

Originally published June 19, 2019