Terps women no longer undefeated, but pressure to repeat as national champions is still on

Taylor Cummings conceded that the No. 1 Maryland women's lacrosse team's loss last weekend to Ohio State was a "shock to our system." Until an 11-10 loss in the Big Ten Conference tournament semifinals, the Terps had won 27 straight games.

Now Maryland is working to turn that "shock" into the catalyst that sparks a second straight national championship.


"No one likes to lose, and especially at tournament time," Cummings (McDonogh) said. "But I think we've done a really good job, and our coaches have done a really good job, of turning this into a positive for us. We're forced to look at some things that for a while have been problems, but because we've been winning, we sort of just let them slide under the rug. That loss really exploited our weaknesses and made us change some things."

Loaded with talent — starting with Cummings, a junior midfielder and last season's Tewaaraton Award winner — Maryland (17-1) seemed invincible. The cover of April's Inside Lacrosse magazine even featured Cummings, draped in a Maryland flag, flanked by All-America teammates Megan Douty, Brooke Griffin (South River), Kelly McPartland and Alice Mercer (Century) with the headline: "Best Team Ever?"


With that kind of hype and wins piling up, it would be difficult not to get a bit complacent. Even as the little problems crept in, Maryland was good enough to overcome them — until the then-No. 20 Buckeyes outplayed the Terps in Piscataway, N.J., on May 1, especially during a 7-1 second-half run.

"I think we went up 4-0 and played great defense the first 15 minutes of the game, and then just kind of took our foot off the gas," Terps coach Cathy Reese said. "We've been in this for a little while. The past couple of games, I feel like we've just been a little flat. It's caused us to re-evaluate some things and … forced us to have some eye-opening conversations with some of our players and coaching staff that we might not have had had we kept going on that cruise-control sort of thing."

The Terps haven't had much trouble pinpointing a couple of their main problems, and Reese doesn't think they'll have trouble fixing them.

Despite an attack that averages 14.2 goals per game and features four players with at least 50 points — Cummings, Griffin, Megan Whittle (McDonogh) and Zoe Stukenberg (Marriotts Ridge) — they've struggled with their shooting accuracy. Against Ohio State, they hit just 10 of 29 shots.

Defensively, they gave the Buckeyes too many good looks at goal, and Douty, a senior defender, said the unit lacked cohesion against a team that often outhustled the Terps.

"We weren't helping each other as much as we usually do, and so we've been focusing on the team effort," Douty said. "If we step out on the field and we're flat and we're not there to play, we can lose, so it just put that in perspective for us, and every time we're on that field, we need to go 110 percent."

While the loss cost them a shot at the inaugural Big Ten tournament championship, it didn't hurt them in the NCAA tournament. They still received the No. 1 seed and will begin play with a second-round game against Massachusetts at noon Sunday in College Park. If they win, they would host the Northwestern-Notre Dame winner in next weekend's quarterfinals.

There's no question the Terps still are favored to repeat as national champions, said Sheehan Stanwick Burch, women's lacrosse analyst for CBS Sports Network and ESPN.


"Any chance of them overlooking an opponent is out the window now, which is unfortunate for everyone else," said Burch, a Notre Dame Prep graduate and former Georgetown All-American.

"It will be interesting to see how they rebound, because they've suffered so few losses," she said, referring to the Terps' three defeats over the past three seasons. "They still have that confidence, which so many teams are searching for. When games get tight, they don't look rattled, and from what I understand, against Ohio State, they didn't look rattled at all, which is a good thing, because [that means] they thought they were going to win that game. They didn't, but nine times out of 10, that plays in their favor, because they don't get rattled."

When it comes to the NCAA tournament, these Terps have a lot to live up to in their bid to reach the final four at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., and not just because 10 starters played on last year's championship team.

Maryland has won more NCAA titles than any other Division I program (11). They also have a record 31 tournament appearances, 26 consecutive appearances, 58 tournament games and 18 trips to the final.

That adds some pressure, but expectations can be even higher in an undefeated season. Ohio State's upset win jarred the Terps' attention back to what's in front of them.

"Cathy just said the pressure's off," Cummings said. "We've been riding the undefeated season for so long, and the pressure's off now. We potentially have four games left in our season, but we know one is definite, and that's what we're focusing on."