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Maryland women’s lacrosse enters post-Taylor Cummings era

On Saturday, Maryland's women's lacrosse team will take the field for the first time in five years without perhaps the best player ever in the college game: three-time Tewaaraton Award winner Taylor Cummings.

The do-it-all midfielder led the Terps to an 88-4 record and two national championships while dominating almost every statistical category for the past three years. They reached the NCAA final all four years, their best run since winning a record seven straight national titles between 1995 and 2001.

Still, don't expect Maryland, which opens at William & Mary, to collapse without her.

While the Terps don't have one person who can take Cummings' place, they have a roster full of players who can score, win draws, cause turnovers and vacuum ground balls. It might take four or five players to fill her stat line, but that's OK.

"You don't try to replace players like that," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. "We're not trying to figure out who's the next Taylor Cummings. That's not it. It was the same thing with Jen Adams — 'Who's the next Jen Adams?' That wasn't it either. ... It's 'What do we need to do to be the best team that we can be this year?' "

Each year's team has a different personality, Reese said. Great players come and go, but the Terps have adjusted and reached the final four the past eight years.

Maryland players have won six of the past seven Tewaaraton Awards — Cummings (McDonogh) the past three years, Katie Schwarzmann (Century) in 2012 and 2013 and Caitlyn McFadden (Notre Dame Prep) in 2010. The Terps won the national championship the year after Schwarzmann graduated and they were back in the final the year after McFadden left.

The only time the Terps graduated a Tewaaraton winner and did not make it back to the national championship was after Adams, who won the first Tewaaraton in 2001. They went from seven consecutive national championships to falling in the NCAA quarterfinals in 2002.

Towson coach Sonia LaMonica, once an All-America attacker for the Terps, played through that transition. She said it wasn't the loss of Adams that brought on the tumble, but the loss of about 80 percent of the starting lineup. With so many talented players back at Maryland, including nine starters, she doesn't expect to see any drop-off from these Terps.

"Everyone in that program knows while there are some exceptional players, the team together is what creates that magic," LaMonica said. "I think if anything it's just motivating the returners that we can be a good as Maryland has ever been. There's so much talent waiting in the shadows there. I don't think they're worried for one second."

While this Maryland team might be known as the post-Cummings Terps, it also lost another key to its success over the past four years — Alice Mercer, last year's National Defender of the Year.

Reese finds it difficult to talk about losing Cummings without talking about Mercer (Century), too.

"Those two as senior captains, four-year starters, positional players of the year, U.S. [national] team — they just had such a presence about them when they walked on the field, and I think that was really something unique. We're looking to other people to step up and step in to fill roles and do what they need to do on both ends of the field."

If each Terp plays her role well, Maryland shouldn't lose ground. The Terps, who won their first 22 games last season before falling to North Carolina in the national championship, were ranked No. 2 in preseason behind the Tar Heels.

Reese expects two seniors — second-team All-America midfielder Zoe Stukenberg (Marriotts Ridge) and third-team All-America defender Nadine Hadnagy — to take over the primary leadership roles after also serving as team captains last year with Cummings and Mercer.

The Terps bring back six of their top seven scorers. Megan Whittle (McDonogh), Stukenberg, Caroline Wannen, Caroline Steele (Severn), Taylor Hensh (Marriotts Ridge) and Jen Giles (Mount Hebron) combined for 235 goals and 64 assists last season. That was 67 percent of the Terps' total points.

Whittle, one of only two sophomore first-team All-Americans last season, knows what it's like to play on a team that loses the top player in the country. She had two years left when Cummings graduated from McDonogh as the nation's No. 1 recruit.

"Of course, you can't replace Taylor, but at the same time, I have a lot of confidence in all the girls on the team to step up," she said. "We will miss her a lot, but you have to move on and get ready for the next season and work with what you've got. We have some really good players on this team and all of us are really excited for this season."

The bigger adjustment might come on the defensive end, where Cummings and Mercer played integral roles. Hadnagy, Julia Braig (St. Paul's), Morgan Torggler (Severna Park) and Alex McKay (Marriotts Ridge) return along with Megan Taylor (Glenelg), last season's Big Ten Goaltender of the Year as a freshman.

"We're going to have to play more as a team," Hadnagy said. "We relied on Alice and Taylor because we knew they could stop their girl, but now we'll be more of a team defense, which I think isn't a bad thing. It'll be a different perspective on defense for us, but not a bad one. Different year, new team but still the expectations are the same."

The Terps also bring in a lot of young talent. They have nine freshmen, including The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year, midfielder Lizzie Colson (Manchester Valley), All-Metro attacker Brindi Griffin (McDonogh) and midfielder Hannah Warther (Century).

Reese noted the youth of her team, which has eight seniors and 19 underclassmen. Three sophomores started last season, and another played about half of every game. Some young players will take on bigger roles this season.

"How are people to step up in these roles to really just find ways to bring out the best in each other? That's what we're trying to do," Reese said. "It's not necessarily a hole here or a hole there and how are we going to fill it. … Now we're working with a different bunch and we're trying to mold them together to be the best team they can be this year."

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