Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 1 Maryland (Women)
The Terps are on a quest to three-peat as NCAA champions. With Tewaaraton winner Taylor Cummings, plus All-Americans Alice Mercer and Megan Whittle, it seems doable, but only five starters return in 2016. Can the young squad hold off its toughest competition?
Maryland at a Glance
2015 Record: 21-1
3 Big Things
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Maryland has ranked in the nationl Top 10 offensively in each of the last five years, but the graduation losses of Brooke Griffin, Kelly McPartland, Kristen Lamon and Erin Collins will certainly put pressure on the returning players and new players to keep that streak alive. The quartet combined for 119 goals last season.
1. This isn't the same old Maryland.
Taylor Cummings has been the face of Maryland lacrosse the last two seasons. Winning the Tewaaraton Award while leading your team to consecutive NCAA championships tends to do that. With Cummings back for a senior encore, it's easy to pencil Maryland into the No. 1 slot without giving it much thought.
But with just five returning starters, this is a fresh start for the Terps.
"This has been such a fun fall," coach Cathy Reese said. "Every year is unique and challenging, but this is so different from the last two years. We have a different mix of people and it's exciting to see people growing and getting their opportunity."
2. Megan Whittle shouldn't get lost in Taylor Cummings' shadow.
Maryland won the national championship in 2014 and returned three first team All-Americans just on the offense side of the ball. Tough for a freshman attacker to make an impact, huh? Not if your name is Megan Whittle.
All Whittle did was lead the team with 67 goals, and she was both clutch and consistent. She had three goals in the national championship game win over North Carolina, including back-to-back second half tallies that broke a 6-6 tie and gave the Terps the lead for good. That was one of 13 hat tricks during the season. Whittle will obviously draw more attention from defenses in 2016, but Maryland will also rely on her more. A monster 2016 season could be in store.
3. The draw fuels Maryland.
With seven minutes to go in the first half of a nationally-televised game at Northwestern, the Terps led just 3-2. By halftime, the score was 9-2 and the much-anticipated showdown was all but over. Taylor Cummings dominated the draw and Maryland scored on break after break. The Terps won 65 percent of their draws last year and with Cummings back in the circle this year, that shouldn't change. Maryland has finished in the Top 10 nationally in draw controls for three straight years.
* returning starters
Potential is a bit ridiculous on this title, as Cummings is bidding to become the first player ever to win the Tewaaraton Award three times. On a star-studded NCAA championship team, Cummings led the Terps in points (100), assists (37), draw controls (143), ground balls (41) and caused turnovers (36). There's nothing she can't do.
With heavy graduation losses, a number of Maryland newcomers will have a chance to shine in 2016 and Giles heads the list. She can play on both sides of the field and had 51 goals in just 15 games as a senior in high school at Mt. Hebron (Md.) while earning All-America honors.
Buried behind Brooke Griffin and others on Maryland's attack unit, Wannen will finally get her chance in 2016 after playing in 21 games over her first two years. A three-sport athlete at Blake (Md.), her athleticism will be a boost for the Terps' offense.
Biggest Question Mark
It's the same question Maryland had going into 2015. Graduate transfer Alex Fitzpatrick came from nowhere — Lehigh, actually — and won the job. Maryland split time with three goalies in the fall, with junior Emily Kift and freshman Megan Taylor looking like the top options.
Terps attacker Megan Whittle was both clutch and consistent in 2015, leading the team with 67 goals as a freshman, and is only expected to kick it up a notch in 2016. (Greg Wall)
What rival coaches say about the Terps
"No. 1 until they are knocked off. Too much talent on that roster. Only question mark is in net."
"Ball control through the draw, a lineup full of finishers, and athletic defenders. Even with a large hit of players lost to graduation, Taylor Cummings is back and will once again take over the whole field for them."
"Play fast, push fast break, Taylor Cummings on the draw, powerful dodgers with her and Megan Whittle. Weakness: Loss of Megan Douty on defense. Brooke Griffin graduating leaves a hole at X for someone to fill."
"No. 1 until someone dethrones them. Defending champs just reload. It's hard to vote against the Terps with Taylor Cummings and Megan Whittle returning, but the two-time defending champs took a big hit to graduation and will have some stiff competition this season."
"The Terps lost seven starters from their championship team a year ago but Maryland doesn't rebuild, it reloads, and it's hard to bet against Taylor Cummings as a senior."
"They're always in the mix, but they're in a pretty big rebuilding phase because they don't play anybody ever. They play 13 kids and they lost a huge group of that. They obviously have some question marks. But they'll be good. They've got talent."
"They're always good. They always have talent and Cathy does a great job."
"They did lose to graduation a couple key players. Taylor Cummings is so dominant. I think she'll carry a little more on her shoulders, but she can handle it. They have new players and new leaders coming up, so you can never count them out."
"I'm sure they are going to have another great year, though they lost some very talented seniors. They tend to reload, but I'm not going to shed any tears for them on their graduation losses, that's for sure, especially considering still have Cummings and Whittle and some really great kids. They did lose a lot, and there might be an opening there for some teams against them."
Maryland plays eight road games in 2016, including a tough three-game stretch at Syracuse, Florida and Penn in mid-March.
February 27 at North Carolina
A rematch of last year's national championship game before the calendar turns to March? Sign me up. Maryland's new starters will get a couple of games under their belts before this clash of the titans, but Cathy Reese will get an early read on what she needs to work on if the Terps are to bring home a third straight title.
Seven starters. It's rare to see a team lose more than half of its starters from the previous season and come into the year ranked No. 1 in the country. But rare is the best way to describe Maryland's program. Twelve national championships and an all-time winning percentage 82.8 has the Terps on a different level than any other program. The faces may be new, and the Under Armour uniforms will likely be new and innovative, but the jersey will still say Maryland.
With only five starters returning, it would be easy to expect Maryland to lose the top spot. But when three of those returning starters were All-Americans and one of them has been the best player in the country two straight years, Maryland remains the team to beat.
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