Careers Collide for Cummings, Treanor in Saturday Matchup
Taylor Cummings and Kayla Treanor will be on the field as rivals for perhaps the final time Saturday, though history says there will be one more meeting in the NCAA tournament.
Cummings and No. 1 Maryland will travel to the Carrier Dome to face Treanor and No. 3 Syracuse in a matchup of elite programs that features the two top returning candidates for the Tewaaraton Award.
"It's always awesome to play the best of the best, and she is the best," Treanor said of Cummings, the two-time reigning Tewaaraton winner. "She's a good friend of mine. She's a really great player. ... I don't think it's really just one person we're looking to play. It's just exciting to play Maryland. It's exciting to play any top-5 team."
Their teams have played each other seven times over their careers, but Maryland is 7-0 in the Cummings-Treanor series, including the season-ending losses for the Orange in the final four the past three years. Syracuse fell to two-time defending national champion Maryland 15-12 in the 2014 national title game for the first of the Terps' back-to-back NCAA titles.
"The Syracuse-Maryland game is always physical, really intense," Cummings said. "We're both very well-coached programs that want to win. We're a group of girls that have a competitive nature deep in our core. We don't want to lose. These games are always battles. They're always fun. We're excited to go up to the Carrier Dome and battle it out."
The only Syracuse win in the overall series came in 2012 — before the two arrived on their respective campuses. The Orange defeated the then-No. 3 Terps 10-9 on their way to their first-ever appearance in the national championship.
Meanwhile, Treanor was finishing her senior year with Niskayuna (N.Y.) as her high school's all-time leading scorer. And Cummings led IAAM power McDonogh (Md.) to its fourth conference championship as the two-time Lacrosse Magazine National and Mid-Atlantic Player of the Year.
In their seven collegiate meetings since, Treanor and Cummings have lived up to their individual billings while posting similar numbers. Treanor has scored 21 goals to Cummings' 22, while the two-time Tewaaraton recipient tallied one more assist, one more ground ball and six more turnovers. Cummings had a 6-0 and 40-8 edge over Treanor in caused turnovers and draw controls, respectively, which is reflective of their positions. For the past three years, Treanor has played attack, while Cummings became known for her play in the midfield.
"Both players are really fun to watch," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. "They're both unique and they're both different. Being able to watch them do what they do best has been really special throughout their careers."
Cummings' end-to-end play has been considered one of the main reasons she has won the past two Tewaaraton Awards over Treanor, who stood alongside the Maryland midfielder an the annual season-ending ceremony in Washington, D.C., as a two-time finalist. It fits a trend that has seen midfielders win 10 of the last 15 Tewaaraton trophies. Conversely, 11 of the last 15 men's Tewaaraton winners have been attackmen.
"Two different positions are being compared to each other consistently with who's better and that's the reality of it," Syracuse coach Gary Gait said prior to the season. "[The selection committee] determines what's most valuable and I guess they say midfielders are more valuable than attackers or defenders. If it's 10 of 15 [Tewaaraton winners as midfielders], that's what I would read into the stat."
After Kailah Kempney graduated from Syracuse last year, Gait decided to move Treanor to the midfield as the team's primary draw specialist. The position listed in her roster biography now reads attack/midfield. After securing 46 draw controls through her first three years, Treanor has recorded 72 through her first six games.
If she can sustain her wide lead over the rest of the country with a Division I-best 12 draw controls per game, it bolsters Treanor's Tewaaraton case with her increased impact on her team's success. Louisville's Kaylin Morissette, who ranked second in draw controls last year, is again second with 9.57, while Cummings is tied for 26th with four per game in just four contests.
In 2015, Taylor Cummings led Maryland with 143 draw controls, while Kayla Treanor only had 22 for Syracuse. In just the first few games of 2016, those stats are already drastically different. (John Strohsacker)
Cummings has the opportunity to become the first-ever three-time Tewaaraton winner in 2016.
"I think Kayla and I would both give anything to win a national championship and conference championship over winning a Tewaaraton," Cummings said. "Both of us, I'm sure, are focused on winning this game on Saturday. It's early March. There's a lot that happens towards the beginning of June. I think we have done so well because we don't care about individual awards — and I don't think it will be any different come Saturday."
If Cummings can lead Maryland to a win this weekend, it could give her a leg up in the race, but she reiterates where it ends, for her and the Terps as a team, is most important.
"Individual awards don't come unless the team is there," Cummings said. "I just know that without them, I wouldn't even have one Tewaaraton, let alone two. I really try my best to not think about it. That just gets in my head."
The Tewaaraton guidelines read: "Finalists will be selected based on individual performance and a player's contribution to the success of their team."
Treanor has done everything but win a national title or a Tewaaraton Award. The reigning Attacker of the Year is just the fifth player in Syracuse history to score 200 career goals. She ranked fourth in points in program history when the year began, but all of her focus is on her team's ambitions.
"She has this one thing — the national championship, that's the big thing," Gait said. "That's the one thing on her mind."
Win, and Treanor might be able to unseat Cummings for the Tewaaraton. The last attacker to be awarded the Tewaaraton was Northwestern's Shannon Smith in 2011. Maybe not so coincidentally, Smith led the Wildcats to the national title. Only four Tewaaraton winners have come from a team that did not win the national championship.
"That's really the only goal," Treanor said of the team title. "After that, your personal success is just a byproduct of your team's success. That comes secondary to our main goal, which is to win a national championship and win ACCs."
But both figure prominently in that team success, too.
Cummings leads the top-ranked team in the country in points per game (3.75), assists per game (1.25), caused turnovers per game (3.0), draw controls per game (4.0) and ground balls per game (2.75).
Treanor leads Syracuse in points per game (5.0), goals per game (3.0), assists per game (2.0) and draw controls per game (12.0).
Treanor touts Cummings as "the ultimate teammate" who rarely has a bad day or a bad moment within a game. But back in College Park, Cummings has been doing her homework. She wasn't surprised Treanor took over in the midfield. After watching a couple Syracuse games, she noted Treanor's wrist strength and stick work has translated to her success in the draw circle.
"What she does is magical," said Cummings. "There's no way I could do any of that. To just kind of watch her play and do her thing is awesome. She's an awesome player and she will have left a legacy at Syracuse and in the lacrosse world in general."
With similar careers at the college level, it's no surprise that both Taylor Cummings' and Kayla Treanor's talent has carried into the U.S. ranks. Both will travel to England this summer as part of the 2016 Team USA foreign tour roster. (Scott McCall)
While fans saw a glimpse of her skills against Cummings in the 2015 semifinal — Treanor had three draw controls to Cummings' five — the draw control has become a new focus this season for Treanor.
"Possession is very important," said Gait. "When you have the ball, the other team can't score. The draw is a huge part of the game. We've struggled against Maryland, mostly in the first half of games in the past few years. We're hoping K can help change at least our first-half start to the game."
Treanor has been brilliant from the first game of the season when she won 19 draw controls against Loyola, while her predecessor Kempney averaged 7.75 draw controls per game last year.
"Any task she's taken on, she's incredibly focused and wants to be the best at whatever she does," Gait said. "This is just a great example of her taking on the challenge of the draw and trying to master it. ... We needed to replace [Kempney] and she stepped up."
Treanor may be new to the gig, but Cummings has long been known for her prowess taking the draw. As a freshman, she had a team-high 94 draw controls and remains one of the very best in the country while still leading the Terps in almost every other statistical category. Last year, Cummings had a Division-I best 100 points.
"She's one of the all-time great players that ever played at Maryland," Gait said. "Having worked there a long time and coached a bunch of the past great players, she's definitely making her mark in history. [But] Kayla, she's certainly one of the most talented players in the country. She allows us to compete at the level we want to compete at. She's a big piece of that puzzle."
Both are credited with raising their levels in their final seasons.
Treanor is now a dual threat as a draw specialist and the most dangerous attacker for the Orange.
Cummings assumed a bigger leadership role after graduating seven starters and welcoming a 10-member freshman class — eight of which have seen playing time with three earning spots in the starting lineup — and strives to be an even better defender in addition to her offensive strengths.
"She's been such a talented player," Reese said. "Here you come into your senior year and we only return five starters. You're really tasked with leading. After the last two years, we've asked more and more of her defensively. I think she's a total stud on the defensive end with Alice [Mercer] and Nadine [Hadnagy]. She's stepped up to become more of a complete player."
Cummings and Treanor are well aware this is the final chance for them in college.
"One last ride," was how Cummings described her senior year prior to the Terps' season opener.
If their teams don't meet in the NCAA tournament, this Saturday will be the fans' final chance to decide for themselves who is better.
"Both are them are great at what they do," Reese said. "You look at Treanor, and she's an outstanding attacker. Her ability to score and dominate on the offensive end has been fun to watch as a fan. They're not going to match up. Taylor, it's fun to see her play full field. She plays disciplined defense. She has such speed through the midfield."
Both also are members of the 2016 U.S. women's national team roster for its foreign tour in England this summer, so they have gotten to know each other away from their collegiate rivalry.
"I much prefer to play on the same team as her than against her," said Cummings. "It's almost like you put a face to a name and you've gotten to know this person through the years. It's going to be a lot of fun to play against her. It always is.
"I think the focus of this game shouldn't be Kayla vs. Taylor. It's going to be Syracuse vs. Maryland. Whichever team comes out better and comes out fighting and hungry is going to win."
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