Taylor Cummings couldn't imagine going through high school without playing three sports.
The McDonogh senior briefly considered giving up basketball a few times but could never let it go. It fit right into the flow of her school year as she moved easily from soccer to basketball to lacrosse.
Cummings has put together perhaps the most impressive run ever by a local high school girl. No other athlete in Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference history has played on three straight championships teams — in three different sports. Sunday, Cummings has a chance to make it four titles in a row when the No. 1 Eagles face No. 5 Maryvale for the lacrosse title at Stevenson University.
Not only has she played on three straight championship teams in the area's toughest conference, but Cummings played a pivotal role in each one.
Cummings' run started last spring when she scored the game winning goal in the Eagles' 18-17 win over Roland Park in the lacrosse final. In the fall, she scored the insurance goal in a 2-0 win over Archbishop Spalding in soccer. In February, she scored most of her 14 points in the second half to help rally her team from 22 points down to beat Spalding, 46-44, for the basketball title.
Only one other Maryland girl is known to have played on four straight high school championship teams in three distinctly different sports, Fallston's McKenzie Hannahs whose Cougars won four straight state titles in the same three sports in 2009 and 2010.
All-Metro in all three sports and the No. 1 lacrosse recruit in the country according to ESPN High School, Cummings earned a pair of awards last season that rarely go to juniors — Lacrosse Magazine's national Player of the Year and The Baltimore Sun's overall Female Athlete of the Year.
For the 17-year-old, playing three sports not only introduces her to new skills that adapt to the other sports and keeps her close to different groups of friends. It also fulfills her desire to compete.
"I'm just a really competitive person in general," she said. "If you ask my friends, I really don't like to lose, even at the smallest things, but I really like being able to help contribute to a win however way possible. Just competing in general is something that is really a natural high."
'People are very scared of her'
Cummings has a split personality when it comes to sports. Her aggressive style can put off some opponents, but it gives her a competitive edge whether she's scoring soccer goals, playing tenacious basketball defense or battling to win a lacrosse draw.
"On the field, Taylor's very aggressive and I know some people are very scared of her. If I didn't know her I probably would be scared of her, because she's so good," lacrosse teammate Corinne Etchison said with a laugh. "Off the field, she's so kind. I love being around her, and she's always there for everyone on our team."
Sunday, Cummings will lead the Eagles in their quest for a fourth straight A Conference championship and their 69th straight victory. In Cummings' four years, McDonogh has lost only one lacrosse game.
She has a combination of athleticism, skill and game sense that few others can match. A midfielder, she excels everywhere on the field.
"She's a complete player," Eagles coach Chris Robinson said. "She can do it all. She can play defense. She can score. She can assist and make other players better. Ground balls, Draw controls. Strong right handed, left handed. Fast. Quick. Strong. She's probably the most talented player I've ever coached, and she has a phenomenal work ethic and attitude to go along with it. She's just an incredible player."
Along with her ability to control the draws and cause turnovers, Cummings has scored 55 goals and dished out 27 assists. In the Eagles' 13-2 semifinal victory over No. 6 Notre Dame Prep, she had three goals and an assist. She also turned a caused turnover into an assist with 17.5 seconds left in the first half for a 6-1 lead that deflated their opponents.
"If — and it's a big if — she makes a mistake, she gets the ball right back, so it's not really a mistake to start with," NDP coach Mary Bartel said. "She's got a nose for the ball. She's an incredible athlete. She's great to watch."
Cummings will take her game to Maryland next year, opting for the Terps over North Carolina, Duke and Florida because of their style and competitive game — and because it's close enough to home to see her sister Kelsey, an Eagles' freshman, play once in a while.
Terps coach Cathy Reese said she expects Cummings to be an impact player from the start.
"Her style of play's going to shine at Maryland," Reese said. "She's going to be able to control the draw, be a transition player for us, run the ball from one end to the other, to dodge, to take people to goal. Everything she does right now is how we play. She's a championship-caliber athlete in everything she does."
'A really good decision'
For Cummings, perhaps the toughest decision of her sporting life was deciding which sport to focus on.
Lacrosse came into the picture kind of late.
When most of her peers started learning the sport at 5, Cummings didn't even know what lacrosse was. She didn't pick up the sport until she was 7, after her family moved to Ellicott City from Richmond. She spent her earliest years ice skating.
"I wasn't very good [at lacrosse] for a really long time," she said, "but I fell in love with it slowly. It used to be my least favorite sport but it grew on me throughout the years. As I started to play club, travel teams I just started to get the hang of it. I really love how intense and aggressive it is, and I really liked the friendships I made from it, which made me like it even more."
Figure skating, gymnastics and a brief experience with ballet didn't fit Cummings' competitive nature even at such a young age.
"I think they recommended ice hockey," her mother Carol said with a laugh.
Soccer filled the bill, and Eagles coach Harry Canellakis says that even after five years away from club competition, Cummings could play Division I. In the A Conference soccer semifinal victory over Notre Dame Prep, Cummings scored four goals, which Canellakis said was one of the best playoff performances he's ever seen.
"We have college coaches that have come to our games to watch other players that are playing Division I soccer, and all the sudden they'd ask me about Taylor, 'Where's she going to play soccer?'" Canellakis said.
"With lacrosse, she's always probably been the go-to goal scorer. For soccer, she just finds out exactly what the team needs and she tries to perform that role. That's definitely the case in basketball. For us, in what's considered to be a pretty competitve league, she was our leading scorer one year. She's been in the top in scoring throughout her career."
In seventh grade, however, lacrosse edged out soccer when Cummings had to decide between the two because of their conflicting club schedules.
"I decided that lacrosse would probably give me more opportunities," Cummings said. "I wasn't really thinking about college too much, but I knew that it was becoming an increasingly popular sport, so I chose lacrosse.
"It was a really good decision for me. I love it."