Taylor Cummings was livid with herself as she ran off the field early in the second half of the Maryland women’s lacrosse team’s win over Virginia last month, forced to sit out the rest of the game after picking up a second yellow card. It was the first time in her virtually spotless college career that she had been tossed from a game, and the stadium was stunned as she dropped her stick on the sideline and watched the rest of the game away from the action .
The scene underscored the longevity and dominance of Cummings, who has started in all 86 games she has played at Maryland and is arguably the most decorated women’s lacrosse player in NCAA history. She is a three-time all-American and last season as a junior became the youngest two-time winner of the Tewaaraton Award, given to the country’s top player. Her record as a college player is 83-3 with two national championships and one national-runner-up finish: a triple-overtime loss to North Carolina her freshman year.
Now, as top-ranked and undefeated Maryland (17-0) opens its postseason Friday at the Big Ten tournament in Evanston, Ill., it can relish the fact that it again can lean on Cummings.
“I’ve tried to appreciate every moment, every practice, every game,” said Cummings, whose team will face Rutgers in the semifinals Friday.
An ESPY nominee last summer, she has won three Big Ten offensive player of the week awards this season and another three on the defensive side, continuing to find ways to improve and become more versatile. But for all of Cummings’s production — she leads the team in points (60), groundballs (51), draw controls (113) and caused turnovers (42) — her absence during the second half of the 17-6 win over Virginia demonstrated the depth around her.
That depth is a mark of the team’s maturation from a relatively inexperienced group at the start of the season. Last year, the Terrapins boasted 10 returning starters and were the subject of an Inside Lacrosse magazine cover story that christened them as potentially the best lacrosse team ever. This season it returned half as many starters and had a lack of experience at a number of positions, most notably in the back end, which returned all-American defender Alice Mercer, a senior, but was otherwise unseasoned.
“Our eyes were a little big, and we were a little nervous because we were so young and inexperienced at a lot of positions,” Cummings said of the early-preseason workouts.
But Maryland Coach Cathy Reese has been stockpiling talent for years, showing off the recruiting ability to retool a program that has made seven consecutive trips to the Final Four and won three national championships since 2010. Maryland hasn’t missed a beat this spring, running its overall winning streak to 21 since last season’s lone loss, to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament.
Alongside Cummings, it has the Big Ten’s most prolific scorer in Megan Whittle, who has followed up her 67-goal freshman campaign with 56 this season. It has five of the 25 Tewaaraton Award nominees: Cummings, Whittle, Mercer, junior midfielder Zoe Stukenberg and junior defender Nadine Hadnagy. They lead one of the most statistically complete teams in the country.
Maryland has beaten all but five of its opponents by more than five goals and dominated its nine ranked opponents by a combined score of 122-58. It is second nationally in scoring offense with 15.29 goals per game and is the least turnover-prone team in the country with just 10.06 per game. It also leads the NCAA in draw controls per game with 14.53. The defense has blossomed around Mercer and Hadnagy, finding quality production from freshman defender Julia Braig and freshman goalkeeper Megan Taylor, who has started all but one game.
“To come in and follow a team that was a national championship team . . . and to come out this year and hear all of the stuff, to read, you know all the discussion that’s going on, and for these guys to really put it all out there and put themselves on the line for their teammates and for each other, they have worked to develop this championship mentality,” said Reese, who won her 200th game at Maryland last week against Penn State in the regular season finale.
Cummings said this week that she can sense her final college season coming to a close but that she has given little thought to winning a potential third Tewaaraton Award. It would be an unprecedented honor, another first in an illustrious career.
“Even when she’s not on the field, she’s still a huge influence on us,” Whittle said after watching Cummings cheer on the team while sitting out the second half against Virginia. “Even when she’s not on the field, she still is the best.”