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Maryland women's lacrosse must replace stars, but 2017 outlook remains bright

"The team's in good hands," Maryland senior midfielder Taylor Cummings said after an NCAA final loss to UNC.

Taylor Cummings’ final season with the Maryland women’s lacrosse team ended Sunday as her first did three Mays ago: with a loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Division I championship and a feeling of wanting more, or at least something better.

In a weird bit of symmetry, another Tewaaraton Award winner had led that 2013 Terps team. Katie Schwarzmann (Century), also a standout senior midfielder, was on the field when the Tar Heels won her final college game, 13-12. But at least she had spent 12 more minutes of overtime with her team. No one could take that away from her.

“It’s just awesome that we had 60 more minutes to wear a Maryland jersey,” Schwarzmann said after the triple-overtime epic. Coach Cathy Reese jokingly corrected her: “We had a lot more than that.”

But 60 more minutes was indeed it for Cummings, All-America defender Alice Mercer (Century) and four other Terps seniors Sunday. Many were spent trying to catch up to third-seeded North Carolina at Talen Energy Stadium. No. 1 seed Maryland could not, and the 13-7 loss was its only of the season and first since last May.

Now, in the same way that Schwarzmann's senior-year send-off marked a passing of the torch in college lacrosse and College Park — Cummings has followed her ex-teammate's consecutive Tewaaraton Awards with what likely will be three straight — so, too, will Sunday's bitter end give the Terps a new face (or faces) of the program.

"The team’s in good hands," Cummings said. "We had great leadership in our freshmen, sophomore, juniors. They didn’t play scared today. They didn’t play scared any game. And we asked a lot of them. They came in to a team that is known for going to championships and winning them, and they stepped up. As a senior, they did everything I could have asked of them, and Maryland’s in good hands."

There might be no team better prepared to replace the nation's top midfielder and maybe its top defender, as Reese must. Zoe Stukenberg (Marriotts Ridge) had 49 goals and 14 assists and was named a second-team All-American this season. Nadine Hadnagy was a third-team honoree; only Florida could match Maryland's pairing of All-America defenders. Both were co-captains as juniors, too.

One class behind them is maybe the Terps' Next Big Thing. Or, in sophomore attacker Megan Whittle's case, Next Bigger Thing. The McDonogh product was one of two sophomores to garner first-team All-America recognition this spring, her 76 goals second most in the nation.

That trio, along with Big Ten Conference Goaltender of the Year Megan Taylor (Glenelg) and fellow first-year starters Caroline Steele (Severn) and Julia Braig (St. Paul's), should keep Maryland atop any way-too-early projections for the 2017 season with familiar company. The Tar Heels will return two All-Americans as well as a second-team member in 2015 who redshirted this year. Florida, the No. 2 seed knocked out early in the tournament by Penn State, has three coming back. So do the Terps.

How much will Sunday's result matter? Reese said the youngsters on her 2013 team had "felt" that title game loss. Now, for better or for worse, each Maryland underclassman knows just as well what it is like to fall on the final day of the season.

"That’s kind of crazy to say," Reese said. "The juniors here, this is their first, because they had won their freshman and sophomore year, in ’14 and ’15. It’s a feeling that they’ll remember. It stings right now, but this has been a great team. This group has been so much fun, and they’ll rebound, and hopefully it will fuel their fire for next year to just get after it and get back to try to do our best again and return to Final Four weekend."

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