Give Maryland's Cathy Nelson the ball and she will create a shot.
It may be for herself. It may be for a teammate. But as one of the most creative attack players in Division I women's lacrosse, Nelson always will make something happen.
She relishes the chance to make the split-second decisions.
"That's what makes the game so exciting," said Nelson, a third-team All-America pick last year. "It's fun to see how your opportunities open up, how you can draw the double team and get other people open or how you can challenge one-on-one."
Even while playing beside two offensive Players of the Year, Kelly Amonte and Sarah Forbes, Nelson still made a name for herself. Excelling as a feeder because of her uncanny ability to read defenses, she now ranks sixth on the Terps' all-time assist list with 71.
However, as a senior on a young team looking for its fourth straight NCAA Division I championship, Nelson's role has changed a bit this year.
"I've become more of a finisher," said Nelson, who leads the Terps in goals with 49. "Last year, I was always looking to set people up. This year, I needed to step into the role that some of the older players had in past years."
Maryland coach Cindy Timchal said Nelson's emergence as the team's leading goal-scorer has come with experience.
"As a captain and a senior, it's only fitting that you take on that role," Timchal said. "Being under pressure all the time is something you have to get used to. Cathy has the ability to run the attack and perform under pressure."
Nelson has scored five or more goals three times this season, including five in a 14-11 victory over No. 6 James Madison (11-7), the Terps' opponent in today's 1 p.m. NCAA tournament quarterfinal game at Ludwig Field.
The Dukes, who have beaten the Terps (15-3) only once in 26 meetings, have a healthy respect for Nelson's ability.
"Cathy's a real quick player," said James Madison's Megan Riley, a South River graduate who played with Nelson on the Chesapeake Schoolgirl team in 1994.
"She comes up with tricky shots you don't expect and she's not afraid to shoot from anywhere, which is a great quality," Riley said.
Even as a freshman, Nelson's ability was obvious. She scored three goals in the 13-5 national championship victory over Princeton that started the Terps' unprecedented string of three NCAA titles.
"She's always been good," Timchal said. "It was a just matter of her playing lacrosse and having fun, because then she started to be creative and take some risks. She has incredible stick-handling ability. That's where her creativity comes from."
Since her days at Mount Hebron High School, Nelson has been an artistic attacker. While leading the Vikings to three straight state titles, she broke school and state tournament scoring records.
Back then, her combination of decision-making ability and stick skills put her in a class by herself. She was named All-Metro Player of the Year in 1994 from an impressive field that included several other current college superstars, such as Virginia's Peggy Boutilier and Princeton's Cristi Samaras.
The climb from Mount Hebron to Maryland wasn't steep for Nelson. She started all 17 games and scored 20 goals as a freshman.
She has started every game of her college career and now ranks fifth on the Terps' all-time points list with 202 and eighth in goals with 131.
Nelson's star continued to rise every year. She not only leads the Terps in goals this season, but her 68 points rank second behind senior midfielder Sascha Newmarch's 80.
Pub Date: 5/09/98