The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland’s dynasty created the next wave of women’s lacrosse coaches

Maryland Coach Cathy Reese celebrated winning the 2019 NCAA championship with player Caroline Steele. Steele is now part of an all-Terps coaching staff at Saint Joseph's. (Terrance Williams for The Washington Post)
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As Cathy Reese progressed through college, her career aspirations swung from one field to another without a clear landing spot. She initially eyed engineering because she enjoyed math. Her first course in the subject prompted second thoughts. She considered law and medicine before settling on a communications degree because she still didn’t know what she wanted to do once her lacrosse days at Maryland ended.

Reese interviewed for a job selling life insurance, “and I didn’t even know what life insurance was,” she says now, appreciating the fortuitous option that soon emerged. Reese’s coach, Cindy Timchal, wanted her to stay at Maryland as part of the coaching staff. Reese had worked lacrosse summer camps at Maryland and excelled as a player. She just hadn’t realized college coaching could be a career.

In hindsight, Timchal primed Reese and other future coaches for their profession because she “instilled this love of the game for us, and we just loved being together,” Reese said. “We loved being around the sport.”

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So Reese never left. She worked with Timchal for five seasons, then was Denver’s head coach for three. Maryland brought Reese back to College Park to lead the program in 2007, and since then she has orchestrated one of the most successful runs in the sport’s history.

Timchal’s coaching tree extends prominently through the industry, with six of her former Maryland players serving as head coaches in the 29-team NCAA tournament field. Reese leads the second-seeded Terrapins (17-1) as they seek the school’s 15th NCAA title, and three other seeded teams are coached by Maryland graduates. Reese’s group earned a first-round bye and will meet Duke, coached by former Terp Kerstin Kimel, or in-state rival Johns Hopkins in the second round Sunday.

Reese and her fellow Terps-turned-coaches keep adding branches to the Timchal tree. Maryland alumna Kelly Amonte Hiller, who led Northwestern to seven national titles during an eight-year stretch from 2005 to 2012, has four of her former Wildcats coaching teams in this year’s tournament. Virginia is the only other school that has multiple former players leading programs on this stage — Jenny Levy of top-seeded North Carolina and Julie Myers at her alma mater.

“Either we make the job really look glamorous as coaches or it’s that these players are loving their experience and they want to give it back to other student-athletes,” said Jen Adams, a former Terp who’s now the coach of sixth-seeded Loyola (Md.). “That’s what makes me so proud. And we learned that at the University of Maryland. That’s bred into all of us.”

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Adams, the Terps’ all-time leader in points, played her freshman season in 1998, when Reese was a senior. Reese and Adams won the national title each year they played for Maryland, with Adams’s senior season capping a seven-year run of dominance. Adams, whose initial aspirations included becoming a sports agent or working in commercial real estate, served as an undergraduate coach as she finished her degree. Through that experience, she realized, “Okay, you’re going to miss this too much.” So she stayed in the sport, too, eventually working under Reese at Denver and Maryland.

Reese’s influence permeates the sport as her players go on to become Division I assistants and high school coaches. Mindy Jones, a 2009 Maryland graduate who leads St. Mary’s High in Annapolis, finds herself doing “this two-hand aggressive clap” that reminds her of Reese. Kathy Rudkin at Severn doesn’t mind if practices are short as long as her team accomplishes what it needs — the same mind-set Reese has. Taylor Cummings, a three-time Tewaaraton Award winner, said she repeats a common “Cathy-ism” to her players at McDonogh: “Expect nothing. Be ready for everything.”

“You just witness firsthand the impact that a good coach can have on you,” Cummings said of Reese and longtime assistants Lauri Kenis and Caitlyn Phipps. “Those three were our mentors, our moms, our friends, our coaches, our biggest advocates and also the people who pushed us harder than anyone.”

The college coaches who played for Timchal don’t have identical programs. Each has added her own flair, Reese said, and their teams are also shaped by assistants, who might come from different backgrounds. But many of these Maryland alumnae have reached similar heights.

Amonte Hiller has won seven national titles at Northwestern, the No. 4 seed this year. Reese’s teams have been to the Final Four 11 times since she took over in 2007. The Terps have won five national championships since then while Reese has compiled an astonishing 300-33 record. Acacia Walker-Weinstein of Boston College, seeded third this year, broke through last season with a national title after three straight runner-up finishes. All three teams could reach the Final Four later this month.

The championship experience gained at Maryland helps make former players promising coaching candidates. Alex Kahoe played under Timchal at Maryland, and as the head coach at Saint Joseph’s she said she wanted to bring a similar style of “relaxed intensity.” Kahoe has an all-Terps staff, with recent graduates Caroline Steele and Julia Braig as assistants.

In Kahoe’s eighth season, Saint Joseph’s just won its first Atlantic 10 title in program history. Now the Hawks are in the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Kahoe, a two-time NCAA goalkeeper of the year, set out to build her program with a “championship mentality, where we need to work hard and have fun while we’re doing it,” she said, leaning on what led to success when she was a player in College Park.

That philosophy — emphasized by Timchal, who now coaches at Navy — is what former players credit when explaining why they enjoyed their time at Maryland. Some of the recent graduates point specifically to Reese.

“We try in every way that we can to emulate her and pass the torch,” said Rudkin, a transfer from Syracuse who played only the 2018 season at Maryland. Still, she calls Reese her biggest coaching role model. “You don’t need four years with her to know how amazing she is.”

It’s a bit emotional for Reese to hear players make that direct tie — that she made them want to coach. But one of her main goals, she said, is for her players to love their college years, just as she did. So when they want to give others a similar experience, “that makes me really proud,” Reese said.

Each year, more players pass through the program, often winning titles along the way. Aurora Cordingley, a transfer from Johns Hopkins, is in College Park for her final season and leads the Terps’ attack. With a master’s degree in business and management, she expected to land a desk job. This season prompted her to reconsider. She’s not ready to leave the sport, so she’s looking at roles as an assistant coach or a director of operations.

When asked what sparked that decision, she mentioned how much fun she has had this year and added, “Cathy kind of inspired me.”