Ask Cathy Reese about Jen Giles’ legacy, and the Maryland women’s lacrosse coach’s reply is surprising.
“This makes me cry,” she said Tuesday with a laugh.
Ask Giles about Reese’s influence on her, and the senior midfielder has a similar reaction.
“She’s had a huge impact on me,” the Mount Hebron graduate said. “Now you’re going to make me cry.”
The emotional display from Giles is somewhat rare as she is not usually one of the more demonstrative players for the top-seeded Terps (20-1), who will clash with No. 4 seed Northwestern (16-4) in the second semifinal of the NCAA Division I tournament Friday at about 7:30 p.m. at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field. No. 2 seed Boston College (21-1) and No. 3 seed North Carolina (17-3) will meet in the first semifinal at 5 p.m.
But there is no confusion about Giles’ value to Maryland. One of three team captains along with fellow seniors Julia Braig (St. Paul’s) and Megan Taylor (Glenelg), Giles leads the offense in points (76), ranks second in goals (54), assists (22) and ground balls (35), and is a Tewaaraton Award finalist along with Taylor.
“Every time she steps onto the field, you know that she’s going to give it her all, and you know that she wants the best for everyone even if she doesn’t score a single goal or get a single point,” sophomore midfielder Grace Griffin (Liberty) said. “You know that whatever she does on the field, she’s happy for everyone.”
And with the Terps making it to their 11th consecutive final four, playing on Memorial Day weekend has become a familiar routine for Giles.
“It’s a relief because you’ve worked so hard all season and offseason, and it makes it feel like it’s paying off,” she said. “But obviously, we want to make it all the way and win. It feels good to be one of the last teams standing and to know that all of your work has somewhat paid off. But we want it to really pay off.”
Having grown up in the same neighborhood in Ellicott City as Giles did, redshirt junior defender Meghan Doherty’s first several vivid memories involve best-friend hijinks with Giles — doodling shapes in whipped cream during kindergarten or running around “like turds,” as Doherty described it, during eldest sisters Jackie Doherty and Jacqueline Giles’ lacrosse practices.
“She and I were talking about it last night,” Meghan Doherty said. “I was like, ‘We have always been at the same place at the same time. Every memory I have is with you.’ It’s crazy. We’ve done a lot together.”
Since totaling 27 goals and three assists as a freshman in 2016, Giles has amassed at least 41 goals and 73 points in each of her past three seasons as a starter. But there have been a few tough stretches, such as the Big Ten tournament earlier this month, when she failed to score a goal on 10 shots and finished with only one assist.
Northwestern’s ability to shut out Giles in their 16-11 upset of the Terps in the Big Ten final relied heavily on their ability to face-guard her, and Wildcats coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said containing Giles is a high priority.
“I think she’s really dynamic,” Amonte Hiller said. “She can score, she can feed, she really does it all. So you have to respect her in every possible way. And she’s a warrior. She goes up and down the field and plays great defense as well.”
Reese called Giles’ side-to-side movement “the best I’ve ever seen,” but has found a greater appreciation for Giles’ off-field contributions. Despite her status as a senior and a captain, Giles carries buckets of balls to practice, collects balls afterward and helps move the nets off the field. And Giles concentrates on the fundamentals, leaving behind-the-back shots and stick tricks to teammates.
“She’s not going to be in my stick demos at camp,” Reese quipped. “That’s not her jam. But if you were going to ask her to run up and down the field for a full 60 minutes as a midfielder, she’s going to crush it.”
Giles also has a way of lightening the mood by dancing. A Beyoncé fan who has considered watching the pop artist’s documentary on Netflix before games, Giles has been known to dance a little during timeouts or long breaks in games.
“I’ve always been the silly one in my family,” Giles said, adding junior defender Julia Salandra (Glenelg) is the team’s best dancer. “Anything to make my sisters and my family laugh.”
Doherty said the players know the right song can get Giles in the mood.
“She has such a fun spirit, and it really shows her personality,” Doherty said. “We love it. We all look forward to it. We’re all like, ‘Oh, Jenny, when are you going to break it out?’ ”
Because of Maryland’s storied history of producing top players, Giles will not graduate as the program’s all-time leader in a specific department. But that is not how Reese will remember Giles.
“She’s just somebody you want to be around,” Reese said. “That’s been something really special for me. I can’t imagine our team without her. I know I say this throughout the years with the people that have come through here and just have a special place in your heart, and she definitely will have a special place with Maryland lacrosse.”
Last year’s loss to Boston College in the national semifinals drives the Terps, and Giles is intent on doing what she can to spark the team to a Division I-record 14th NCAA championship.
“I hope that we can do that,” she said. “Either way, this is such a special group, and it’s impacted me like crazy. But it would just be the cherry on top.”
NCAA DI women’s lacrosse final four
At Johns Hopkins, Homewood Field
» No. 2 seed Boston College vs. No. 3 seed North Carolina, 5 p.m.
» No. 1 seed Maryland vs. No. 4 seed Northwestern, 7:30 p.m.