Cummings is Nike/LM D-I Women's Preseason Player of Year
The jitters, the kinks, a "big hill to climb."
That was how midfielder Taylor Cummings' described her first practice as a Maryland Terrapin. It was the fall of 2013 after the freshman capped off her high school career winning four IAAM championships with McDonogh.
Cummings didn't know anything other than excellence, but with the vast difference jumping to the college level, then-senior Katie Schwarzmann, the reigning Tewaaraton finalist, took Cummings under her wing.
"That first practice was a wake up call," said Cummings. "I remember for the first 10 minutes, I could barely even see straight because of how fast it was. ... Katie played the same position that I did and I had a ton of questions and was always looking to her for the answers."
Two national championships and two Tewaaraton trophies later, Cummings, the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Division I Women's Preseason Player of the Year, entered her senior year in a similar role as Schwarzmann. With only five returning starters, the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine preseason No. 1 Maryland has some rebuilding to do, but Cummings still wants their rivals to fear the turtle.
"We have such a culture here at Maryland – We want to do our best. We want to be the best," she said. "Our leadership is definitely an area that we need. ... The thing I'm going to work on is try to include the freshmen [including sister Kelsey] and make them feel as much a part of the team as I want them to feel."
During her three seasons in College Park, Md., Cummings has experienced only three losses. Maryland coach Cathy Reese will be leaning on the returning starters to embrace their teammates because they have "a lot of work to do." Their offensives schemes will look different without Brooke Griffin feeding from X, their defense needs to replicate the impressive stops made by Tewaaraton finalist Megan Douty and their midfield will miss the speed and prowess of Kelly McPartland.
"We're definitely going to have some hiccups this season, but we have a lot of potential and a lot of room to grow," said Reese. "I want a team of good people who care about each other, who recognize that life is more than lacrosse; it's more than a sport."
"Taylor's amazing," she added. "Her freshman year, it was probably pretty difficult to walk in as talented as she was on a team that was as strong as ours. She came in smiling, eager to learn and eager to work hard. ... I would love for her never to leave."
"It's not about the awards. It's not about your individual," said Cummings. "It's about playing for the people who are right next to you and doing your best for them. I think we've seen in the past couple years." (John Strosacker)
Reese just might see a little of herself in Cummings. When the three-time IWLCA National Coach of the Year was entering her senior year in 1998, her Terps were coming off three national championships, but had graduated at least half of their starting lineup. During opening weekend, they had traveled to North Carolina and Duke – but lost both games. In the previous three seasons, Reese and her teammates had only lost once.
As a captain, Reese was "forced to grow... [and] really step up" to lead a young squad that featured a Jen Adams-led freshman class. Maryland went on to win the NCAA championship that year, its fourth straight in the midst of a seven-year title run under coach Cindy Timchal.
"It was a lot of tears and emotions and stress and learning and growing as a person," said Reese. "Here, these guys have had such success. Taylor... [has] had such an amazing career and now we're at the point where it's different, but it's an opportunity to learn and grow as a person and to embrace other people."
The Terps may have a big target on their back, with No. 2 North Carolina and No. 3 Syracuse gunning for the NCAA crown and a chance to build dynasties of their own, but Cummings has remained the backbone of her team.
In 2015, she led the nation with 100 points and added a team-high 143 draw controls, 41 ground balls, 37 assists and 36 caused turnovers to her stat sheet. Cummings, a U.S. national team member, was also named the Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year in the sport's inaugural season in the conference. Now, the face of the women's lacrosse program represents the entire University of Maryland.
Her list of accolades are endless, but it's never been about the awards for Cummings. Her selfless attitude has rubbed off on her teammates and with a team-first attitude, she says success is inevitable.
"Good things come about," said Cummings, who has the chance to become the first-ever three-time Tewaaraton recipient. "There's always pressure in a top 10 program that's done pretty well the past few years. ... No one can take those championships away from us. No one can take anything we've accomplished in the past away from us. This year is a blank slate."
And what a year it will be to remember.
"One last ride," said Cummings.
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