At first, Megan Douty ignored the call from the strange number lighting up her cellphone during class in College Park a few weeks ago. When the number showed up again, she had left class, so she answered.
The news stopped her in her tracks.
The call came from a Tewaaraton Foundation official congratulating the Maryland defender on being named a Tewaaraton Award finalist.
Walking across campus, Douty froze as the words hit her: "Tewaaraton finalist." She, a defender, was one of the top five players in all of women's college lacrosse this spring.
"I was shocked," Douty said. "I couldn't believe that I even made it to the second round. I was shocked and incredibly honored, not just for me but for my defensive team. For us, it's just great to have one of us on that list. If it was anybody else, I'd be happy that there was a defender on that list, because we're important, too, you know."
Douty laughed after that last comment because, like most other defenders, she has gotten used to making a significant contribution to the success of her team without much fanfare from outside. The junior is the first line defender in five years to be named a Tewaaraton finalist.
While her high-scoring teammates, including fellow Tewaaraton finalist Taylor Cummings (McDonogh), grab the headlines, Douty's contribution has been equally significant. She leads the stingiest defense in the final four as the No. 1 Terps (21-1) prepare to meet No. 5 Northwestern in Friday night's NCAA tournament semifinal at 7:30 at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium. Maryland is seeking its 12th national championship and first since 2010.
This spring, Douty has emerged as a tough challenge on the crease. With her quickness, anticipation and timing, she can cut off the angles and create havoc all around the crease.
"I don't want to say that she's a conservative defender by any means," Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said, "but part of being a defender is being patient and knowing when to take risks, and I think she does a lot of that behind the cage for Maryland. She takes good risks to challenge passes behind the cage as well as shots. I don't think she's a takeaway defender necessarily, but she ends up creating a lot of possessions for Maryland because she has really good instincts and really anticipates well in those perimeter situations and on shots."
A defender really has to make things happen to draw the attention of the Tewaaraton committee, Maryland coach Cathy Reese said, and Douty certainly alters a lot of what opposing attackers want to do.
"With Megan getting ACC Defender of the Year, that was such a high honor," said Reese, "and it's hard for defenders to make that [Tewaaraton] list and to be in that discussion, so that's a huge credit to her."
Douty arrived at Maryland as a versatile Under Armour All-America midfielder who had scored more than 100 points and recorded more than 200 takeaways in her career at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High on the New Jersey shore. As Terps assistant coach Lauri Kenis recruited her, Douty figured she might end up on defense, where she also excelled as a high school soccer player.
"I was always defensive-minded in general," Douty said. "I just kind of felt like anyone could score, but it was so significantly important to stop the other team from scoring, so I found it better to get back in on the 8 [meter arc] and stop the other team."
The Terps defense excels as a unit, and Douty stresses that the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. But no one would argue that she is the link holding it all together.
That might not be obvious on the stat sheet — she's second on the team in ground balls with 33 and third in caused turnovers with 19 — but it shows on the field. She's quick to react to attackers around the crease and has become more vocal with her teammates, aiming especially, she said, to help the midfielders blend into the defense.
Kimel, a member of the Tewaaraton committee, said stats can't tell the whole story, especially on defense.
"I think that we still have people in our game who appreciate the ability to just be a stopper, and that's kind of what she is," Kimel said. "She kind of smothers her opponent, and I think today everything is so stat-driven and so stat-oriented, it's a good thing that the committee looked deeper than that at some of her matchups and the fact that [Maryland's] defense as a unit is holding teams usually significantly below their scoring capability, and she's a big part of that."
In Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal round, the Terps defeated Kimel's Blue Devils, 15-8. Duke entered the game averaging 12.8 goals. Douty and fellow defenders Shanna Brady, Alice Mercer (Century), Casey Pepperman (McDonogh) and Nadine Hadnagy, along with goalie Abbey Clipp (Marriotts Ridge), give up just 7.86 goals per game. Opponents are hitting just 38.4 percent of their shots against the Terps.
Despite her individual accolades, including first-team All-America honors, Douty shares the credit with her defensive teammates, all of whom will return next season.
"We just work really well together," she said. "We have great communication and just take a lot of pride in stopping the other team's offense. We get really excited when we make a big stop, especially when Abbey in the back makes a big save and we get a quick clear out and pass it right off to a middie, and hopefully it's a fast break and a goal. Working together and communicating is key for us, and I think we're so close on and off the field that it just works."
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