Years before Maddie and Olivia Jenner emerged as two of the top draw control specialists in women’s lacrosse, they practiced against each other in their backyard.
While it might have helped their skills a little, “it wasn’t good for family morale,” Maddie said with a laugh. “We would go into the house mad at each other.”
Their father, Kris Jenner, remembers being in the middle.
“You and Olivia would start and I would say, ‘Best of 10.’ You blocked those memories out?” he said, also with a laugh.
To cut down on sibling rivalry, they abandoned those backyard sessions after one summer when Olivia was about 10 and Maddie was 7. Maddie, who graduated from McDonogh this year, and Olivia, coming off her junior year at Duke, found it much easier to practice against others as they developed their skills.
Maddie, last year’s Baltimore Sun Player of the Year and USA Today’s All-USA Player of the Year, has won 567 draws over the past three years, averaging 8.7 per game — both school career records. This spring, Maddie led the Eagles with a school-record 220 draw controls, an average of 10.5 per game on her way to being named an Under Armour All-American. Under Armour’s annual lacrosse all-star game will be played at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field.
Olivia, who took the draws for McDonogh before Maddie, set the Duke single-season record with 149 draw controls this year and finished second in Division I with an average of 8.76 per game. She also broke the school career record with 362.
During recent summers, they returned to practicing the draw in the backyard again, but it’s much different now.
“We’re more mature,” Olivia said, “and our response is different than someone ending up in tears. Now, we’re trying to help each other.”
This fall, Maddie will join Olivia at Duke, but she took a long time to make her decision, wanting to plot her own course and not automatically follow her sister. Olivia thought Maddie would go to Princeton.
“It was kind of a struggle,” Maddie said, “between not wanting to be in her shadow and wanting to do my own thing, so I did think about it, but I’m definitely glad I get to play with her for one more year.”
Maddie followed Olivia into lacrosse and to the draw. This year, she’s also an Under Armour All-American as her sister was in 2015. She’s also been invited to try out in August for the United States team that will play in next year’s under-19 world championships.
At 6 feet 2, Maddie’s height and long arms give her an advantage over most opponents on the draw and she excels at placing the ball high where she can pluck it out of the air.
In middle school, she would push the ball out to a teammate on the circle, but with the Eagles, she started trying to win them herself.
“It wasn’t until high school, my freshman year, that I would try to do the technique that my sister does that gives you more control,” Maddie said. “I didn’t have the same middle school teammates, so I didn’t have that connection with the girls on the circle yet, so I felt like I had to just do it myself.”
Maddie’s ability to win the draw was a key factor in the Eagles’ extending their winning streak to 198 games. A national record for girls lacrosse, the streak ended in May with Notre Dame Prep’s upset victory in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championship.
Olivia, at 5-10, has a slightly different strategy.
“Height helps,” she said, “but I don’t think it’s the one defining characteristic. I think the first thing is being able to play the draw to your physical advantage. For Maddie, she’s much taller and she’s able to get the ball up higher. For me, I prefer to get the ball high but over to my right shoulder area, so I can box the girl out. You have to react quickly and have really fast hands, but it’s also knowing how to play to your physical characteristics.”
While the sisters have the strength, quickness and work ethic to excel at the draw, former McDonogh coach Nancy Love, an assistant when Olivia played, said they also have the temperament to handle whatever opponents attempt to try to gain an advantage.
“Whether they were winning or losing the draw — and they didn’t lose a lot, but when they did, you would never know the difference,” Love said. “They were both so steady in their approach. … They never got frazzled. They got beaten up all the time and they just didn’t react. They just played tough, tough lacrosse.”
Growing up in an athletic family, Maddie and Olivia played a lot of sports. Both also played four years of soccer at McDonogh. Their father was recruited to play basketball at Kentucky but opted for football at Illinois before an injury ended his dream of playing in the NFL. Their mother, Susan Cummings, a Pikesville graduate, played club lacrosse at Duke. Olivia and Maddie’s brother, Kristopher, a rising junior at McDonogh, plays football and baseball.
Although Maddie took a while to decide between lacrosse and tennis, lacrosse came naturally to both sisters. As midfielders, they also took to the draw pretty quickly.
They learned their technique from another former Under Armour All-American, Broadneck and Maryland graduate Karri Ellen Johnson, who plays professionally for the Baltimore Brave and will coach Saturday’s Under Armour game.
“They’re both so teachable,” Johnson said. “We would try one thing and they would get it right away. Olivia’s style is she is really quick off the draw because she has such quick hands. Maddie’s very similar, but she can use her height as an advantage. We tried a lot of techniques and ways to respond, because every draw control person is different, each draw is different, the refs put the ball in different spots, so you can’t control everything. You have to figure out all the parameters and what you can control.”
When Duke coach Kerstin Kimel recruited Olivia, she was more impressed with her height, quickness and explosive speed although she saw the potential on the draw. With Maddie, Kimel expects contributions on both ends of the field as well as on the draw.
“I think anytime you have multiple options on the draw it’s a great thing,” Kimel said. “Given that the draw has been a focus for Maddie, and her height, those are two great positives. I think Maddie and Liv are really different players. Maddie’s playing both ends of the field whereas Liv is pretty much strictly an attacker for us. What’s exciting to me about Maddie is, where Liv may have a little bit more of the explosiveness, I think Maddie is a little bit more finesse and I think she sees the field a little bit differently and that’s not just a height thing. Playing the full field I think you get a different perspective.”
When they played together for one season at McDonogh, Maddie and Olivia played in different midfield lines and rarely got on the field at the same time. They both look forward to playing together more at Duke although both believe it will be a new experience for the grown-up sisters.
“I don’t think it will be the same way it was in high school,” Maddie said. “I was just so timid then. She’s definitely going to be a guiding presence, but I’m more of my own player now.”