Feb. 21, 2005
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The Maryland women's lacrosse team is in an unfamiliar role heading into 2005: underdog. For those who have counted the Terps out or think that their championship run is a thing of the past, this year's squad may end up surprising the country as Maryland has all of the ingredients for a championship-caliber team.
"We're obviously not going to sneak up on anybody, but we have to play with an attitude - a chip on our shoulder," head coach Cindy Timchal says.
Despite losing three-time All-American Kelly Coppedge, the Terps still return explosive offensive players as well as an experienced and talented defense that was one of the nation's best last season.
"We have a strong core of players that I think stacks up well with the rest of the country," Timchal says. "The thing that makes this team special is the way they enjoy the game and play as a unit. They love to play the game with each other, and that translates to a cohesive team on the field."
The Terps will have experience all over the field. Maryland still returns over 70 percent of its offense despite losing Coppedge's 98 points, and eight players that have experience in the starting lineup return in 2005. The offense will be paced by seniors Jessica Dorney and Annie Collins as well as junior Delia Cox, who is on pace to become one of Maryland's top goal scorers. Dynamic midfielder Acacia Walker, who has started every game of her career, will also chip in on offense but will be counted on for defense and draw controls. The defense loses three starters, but returns All-American Greta Sommers and Kirah Miles, who posted the ACC's best goals-against average in her first season as a starter in 2004. In addition to that experience, Maryland also welcomes the nation's fourth-best recruiting class.
"We've got experienced players that will help us in the tough situations," Timchal says. "These players know what it takes to win, and the younger players feed off of that attitude."
Timchal will again test her team with one of the toughest schedules in the country, and by the end of the season, the Terps hope to get back to the role they are used to: champion.
Always high-powered, the Maryland offense has the potential to be overwhelmingly dominant. The Terp offense, based on precision and speed, has all of the components to take over the game.
"I think our offense can be dynamic," Timchal says. "We have individuals that can take over a game, but we could have different players lead us in scoring in any given game. Defenses will have to account for every player on the attack."
Senior Jessica Dorney will look to keep the momentum from a breakout junior season that saw her score 27 goals and 11 assists. Dorney's ability to work in traffic and score makes her dangerous around the cage. Junior Brooke Richards closed the season in strong fashion and provides the Terps with good vision working behind the cage. Sophomore Krista Pellizzi, a regular off the bench in her first season with the Terps, is a crafty player who will vie for major minutes. Sophomore Mollie Reese, last season's ACC Freshman of the Year, will be in the mix at attack after recovering from a wrist injury suffered in the winter. Senior Meredith O'Brien and sophomore Jen Greenberg are strong scorers who will give Maryland options off the bench.
"We have depth at this position that will allow us to play our high-pace style," Timchal says. "I expect this group to score plenty of goals for us this season."
In the midfield, the Terps feature players with varying strengths that help to make this group one of the most dynamic in the nation, starting with Acacia Walker. Walker has excellent vision and can distribute the ball on the offensive side, but also excels in the defensive zone as well. Walker, who has 73 career goals and 70 career assists, will take a majority of the draws for the Terps as well.
"Acacia is definitely a go-to player for this team," Timchal says. "She is just such a good all-around player that other teams need to account for her wherever she is on the field, whether she has the ball or is on defense. She loves the game and is determined to do whatever she needs to make us successful."
Maryland got a boost to its 2005 roster when Annie Collins and Laura Warren decided to return to the team to complete their eligibility. Collins had a career year in 2004 scoring 49 points on 23 goals and a career-high 26 assists. Warren is a more defensive-minded middie who brings intense effort throughout the entire game. The Terps also return preseason All-America selection Delia Cox, the speedy midfielder who scored 47 goals in her sophomore season with the Terps. Cox's speed not only makes her a dangerous scorer but also serves her well in the defensive zone.
The remaining pieces of the midfield will have less experience but plenty of talent. Katie Doolittle will get a chance to build off her freshman season that saw her play in all 20 games and score eight goals and three assists. Kelly Kasper, widely regarded as the nation's top incoming freshman, will be tested immediately. Another freshman, Lauren Cohen, has also impressed the coaches with her finishing ability and will get plenty of minutes in the midfield for the Terrapins. Australian native Casey Magor, her country's leading scorer at the U-19 World Cup, will also be in the mix for serious playing time.
"I think the overall skill level of our midfield is outstanding," Timchal says. "All of the players are very good on both ends of the field. I am excited to see how they play together when the season starts because I think that this unit can be very dominant."
"Last season, we had experienced players in front of an inexperienced goalie, and this year it's a bit of the opposite," Timchal says. "Greta is a great asset because she works so hard and she does a great job taking away what opposing offenses want to do. Kirah had a tremendous year last year, and she played best when we needed it most. I am confident she's going to have another great season."
Sommers, a starter in every game of her career, is an excellent one-on-one defender who will draw the assignment of marking the opposing team's best offensive weapon. Her awareness and footwork make it difficult for players to get to the cage. Megan Sommar, one of Maryland's top players off the bench a season ago, is also an excellent defender in isolation situations and will make her mark in the starting lineup as a senior. Sophomore Becky Clipp is explosive out of the defensive end and has demonstrated to the coaches that she is ready for significant playing time.
Megan Cassara, a freshman lefty, and sophomore Meghan Higgins will also compete for time on the defense. Higgins also excels at taking draws for the Terps and could be used situationally for Maryland.
"Our group of defenders are very intense and take a lot of pride in what they do," Timchal says. "We are going to need the younger players play well, but with Greta and [Megan] Sommar's leadership, I think they will."
Miles started every game for the Terps as a junior and was the ACC leader in goals-against average. Backing her up will be freshman Allie Buote, Katie Capelle and Beth Capelle. Katie Capelle saw spot duty for the Terps in 2004.
In 2004, Maryland's strength of schedule was rated as the eighth-best in the country as the Terps faced 14 ranked teams and sevem squads that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. In 2005, the Terrapins will again face the kind of competition that will prepare them for the NCAA Tournament in Annapolis, Md., in May.
Maryland will have just seven games at home this season, beginning with a showdown against Duke in the season-opener on February 26. The Terps will conclude a three-game road trip at defending national champion Virginia on March 8 before a pair of home contests against Brown and Denver.
The Terrapins will then be away from College Park during a six-game stretch that will last nearly a month. However, the Terps will play in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge again this year, which will be played at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in nearby Annapolis.
This season, M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore will be the site for the ACC Tournament. The ACC, which welcomes Virginia Tech this season, is again one of the nation's most competitive conferences. The tournament will coincide with the men's championship, making it an exciting weekend for local lacrosse enthusiasts.
Following the ACC Tournament, the Terps play host to two of the nation's premiere teams in Princeton and Loyola. The preseason top-10 teams will help prepare the Terps for the NCAA Tournament, which will run from May 12-22.
"The goal of the schedule, as always, is to get us ready for games when your season is actually on the line - the NCAA Tournament," Timchal says. "We want to win as many games as we can, but the bottom line is that we need to be able to win them when they are most in important."