After Jen Adams suffered the ACL tear that sidelined her just before the 2013 women’s lacrosse World Cup, she fully expected to come back this summer to play one more time for Australia.
The Loyola Maryland coach and former Maryland Terps star held out hope despite complications during her recovery. She kept working toward a comeback until the late December trial to select Australia’s team for the Federation of International Lacrosse Rathbones Women’s Lacrosse World Cup in England from July 12-22.
Adams, perhaps the best women’s lacrosse player ever, finally knew her playing career had come to an end.
“Had I gotten myself back to a place and been able to say at that moment, ‘I want to be in and all in,’ I could have had the opportunity to go again, but I think it was there that I just realized. That was a real moment for me,” Adams said. “I can’t really explain it, but watching all my friends go through that camp and selection process and being there physically for it, it was kind of what I needed to see and be part of to be like, ‘This is real. You’re actually not going to play.’”
The difficult decision not to stand for selection ended a stellar international playing career that began as a 15-year-old helping Australia win gold at the first under-19 world championships. In the 2005 and 2009 senior World Cups, she scored more points than anyone else and led the Aussies to the 2005 gold medal with four goals and three assists in the 14-7 title-game victory over the United States.
Along the way, Adams detoured to Maryland for four national championships, three National Attacker of the Year honors and the first Tewaaraton Award as a senior in 2001. Her 445 career points still stand as the NCAA Division I record.
To polish things off, Adams, who had never suffered a major injury before the torn ACL, had hoped to leave the pitch on her own terms.
“That’s the hardest part for me,” she said. “I said to so many people, ‘I’m going to rehab and return and make the decision for myself. I’m not going to let this injury do it for me.’ But unfortunately in the end, I just never felt like I was able to get back to that full physical capability.”
She does plan to make a short trip to the World Cup. After all, for someone used to flying 24 hours to go back home, a trip to England is a short hop. Her sister, Trish Adams, coaches Australia’s team. Jen assisted Trish when she coached the Under-19 team two years ago, but the younger sister will have no official capacity this summer.
“I did want to kind of step back from it all. I think I needed that for myself for some closure,” Adams said. “If I go over, I want it to be as a spectator to cheer on my teammates and have that proud Australian moment in the stands.”
Adams still gets out on the field during practice with her Greyhounds and she said the injury and rehabilitation have helped her, as a coach, to relate to players struggling to bounce back. It has been a lesson in patience, she said, adding that she now understands “the prolonged sense of the identity theft that happens with an injury that’s kind of serious.”
As Adams transitions to a full-time coaching career, an era has certainly come to an end.
At Maryland, her innovative, fun-to-watch attacking style and prolific scoring ability drew fans to the game. Young girls lined up for autographs after Terps games and wore their hair wound in tight “knobs” on the sides of their heads — a style Adams improvised at Maryland after cutting her hair too short for a ponytail.
The young Australian became the face of the sport around the world. She influenced the style of the game and helped spark women’s lacrosse across the United States.
“It was kind of a magical thing, as a witness and as a teammate, watching that evolution and just seeing how much of an impact it had on the game and on all the young players coming up the chain,” said Towson coach Sonia (Judd) LaMonica, former Terps and Australia World Cup player. “All those young players in Australia, they know exactly who Jen Adams is. There’s a lot of pride in her and what she’s done in putting Aussies on the map, pride in her coming from her humble little lacrosse club [Brighton Bombers] in Adelaide in South Australia.”
Sue Sofarnos, who has watched Adams’ entire career in Australia and coached her in two World Cups, said: “Jen is the number one name in Australian lacrosse, male or female, and the person everyone in our lacrosse fraternity regards as our greatest player of all time.
“She captured the imagination of little girls starting off in the sport of lacrosse in Australia with the way she played and ‘lit up’ a lacrosse field with her special talents, and also by being one of the original Aussie teenagers, along with Sarah Forbes, Sascha Newmarch and company, who headed to the University of Maryland on lacrosse scholarships. Any Aussie ‘kid’ who had some talent and loved the game wanted to ‘be like Jen’ and go to college,” added Sofarnos via email.
For Adams to make a living in the sport, however, she had to remain in the United States. Still, she has a deep reach in her native land and plans to continue to coach there as well.
“That’s something I’m 100 percent dedicated to for the future, making sure I maintain my Australian roots and try to stay involved as much as they need or want me,” said Adams, who has two young lacrosse-playing nieces in Australia.
While Adams has always been uncomfortable with the personal attention and accolades, she’ll take them to draw attention to her sport as she stays involved in growing the game at all levels. Although the first women’s professional league came too late for her as a player, she coached the Baltimore Ride last summer in the inaugural season of the United Women’s Lacrosse League. She is also a player representative on a committee within the International Olympic Committee to try to bring lacrosse to the Olympic Games.
As the World Cup drew near, Adams reflected on how fortunate she has been even though her playing career didn’t end in storybook fashion.
“I’m still incredibly lucky. I wouldn’t take back a single thing,” Adams said. “If someone said to me, ‘You can get injured early in your college career and you can come back and play in this last World Cup,’ I wouldn’t have changed the way I did things. I’ve had the best experience as a player. I’ve gotten to do things that a lot of people haven’t gotten to do. I always try to look at it not like what I’m missing out on but what I’ve got, what I’ve had, what I’ve experienced and for that I’m eternally grateful to this sport and what it’s given me.”
Federation of International Lacrosse Rathbones Women’s Lacrosse World Cup
Where: Surrey Sports Park, Guildford, England
When: July 12-22
Two-time defending champion: United States
Team USA coach: Ricky Fried, second World Cup
Local U.S. players: Ally Carey (Vanderbilt, John Carroll), Kristen Carr (North Carolina, Mercy), Taylor Cummings (Maryland, McDonogh), Brooke Griffin (Maryland, South River), Alice Mercer (Maryland, Century), Kelly Rabil (James Madison, Hammond), Katie Schwarzmann (Maryland, Century)
Past gold medals: United States, seven; Australia, two
Live stream: 247.tv/live/lacrosse/rathbones-lacrosse-world-cup-2017, about $65 for the tournament; about $5.20 for one match