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Sister Sister

 

The final weeks of the women’s lacrosse season are upon Maryland’s highly decorated seniors, with one last postseason push left for a class that has accomplished so much together.

 

For two of the Terrapins’ longtime standouts, that also means sharing their last ride in college with a younger sister who joined the program this season.

Both the Cummings (Taylor and Kelsey) and the Mercers (Alice and Shelby) have a shared sibling experience after helping Maryland to a 19-0 regular season mark that included both a Big Ten regular season and tournament title.

 

“I never expected us to be at the same place,” said Alice Mercer, a senior defender. “I kind of thought after high school we’d be going our separate ways. It was a really exciting process having her come down to visit and knowing it was a possibility. It’s been great. It’s nice. We got to play together for another year. It’s flying by, but it’s been such a great year already.”

 

There’s little argument about the on-field results. The Terps are the top seed in the NCAA tournament and will meet either Johns Hopkins or Virginia on Sunday at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex in the round of 16.

 

Both Taylor Cummings and Alice Mercer have started every game this season. Younger sisters Kelsey Cummings and Shelby Mercer are part of a talented freshman class certain to leave an imprint on the program in years to come.

 

Together, they are an obvious representation of the family atmosphere coach Cathy Reese insists upon, something that includes having her own children regularly around the team.

 

“Family is everything,” Taylor Cummings said. “Our team is a huge family. We all love each other so much. We’re not the only sisters. We’ve had sisters in the past, we have cousins on the team now. I think that adds a little extra family bonding.”

The Mercers played together for one season at Century High School in Carroll County, and Alice has turned in a stellar career at Maryland that includes a second team All-America nod as a junior and defensive player of the year honors in the Big Ten this year.

 

So when it came time for Shelby --- who plays the same position as her older sister --- to make a college choice and Maryland was interested, it was an easy call.

 

“There’s obviously so many things I loved about the school, but I played with Alice in high school, too, and that bond with her --- I just want to come to the same place, I want to do what she’s doing, I want to be with her 24/7, basically,” Shelby said.

 

Even with only a year to do so, it’s made a difference for both sisters. But as excited as both are, there might be an even happier constituency about the situation.

 

Their parents.

 

“It was one of those things where it’s my last year and her first year, so splitting time would have been so difficult no matter where she would’ve been if she hadn’t been here,” Alice said. “I think we’re 45 minutes away from here, so for them it’s nice. They can come to everything; they’re at almost every game. It puts them at ease knowing she’s coming into college and experiencing new things, but I’m here to kind of be her mentor.”

Unlike the Mercers, the Cummings sisters didn’t have a previous overlap year as teammates at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills. So rather than an athletic reunion, this was something new for Taylor (a midfielder, two-time Tewaaraton Award winner and the Big Ten’s top female athlete in 2014-15) and Kelsey (an attacker who has four goals this season).

 

The two do not share a position, so that isn’t a dynamic shared with the Mercers. But the theme of a younger player acclimating to the college level with her sister around covers both sets of siblings.

 

“I look up to her,” Kelsey said. “I spent my whole high school career trying to use her as a role model and it’s transferred into college. She’s my older sister, but she’s also one of the best lacrosse players.”

 

That also means Kelsey Cummings has a valuable resource in the family, even if her sister said she’s taken more of a hands-off role whenever possible.

 

“I think it’s not so much like I’ll give her huge lessons, but here and there I’ll say little things to her,” Taylor said. “For me, I want her to figure it out on her own in all aspects. I don’t want her to feel like I’m in charge of her or like our mom. I kind of let her do her own thing, but I’m always there for a helpful hint.”

From a coaching perspective, there is some appeal to recruiting from families who already have someone in the program. There are already built-in relationships, and the younger players have almost always spent some time watching the team well before they arrive on campus.

 

But there are competitive concerns, too, and it has to be a match for both parties. In this case, Reese believes there’s no question both younger sisters belong in her program.

 

“With Taylor and Alice, they’re such outstanding players that when we went through the recruiting process we wanted to make sure we’re doing the right thing and making sure we’re bringing in players who are going to be good players for the University of Maryland, not just because we love the girls and we love their families,” Reese said. “We spent a lot of time watching Kelsey and Shelby throughout the years. I think both of them are great fits here. They both bring something different. They’re different from their sisters.”

 

There’s also a team-building element in play with this set of sisters, who bridge the oldest and youngest groups on the roster.

 

“It’s really brought together our freshman and senior classes,” Reese said.

The end of this year --- and the college careers of Taylor Cummings, Alice Mercer and the rest of Maryland’s seniors --- looms in less than three weeks. No matter how the postseason unfolds, the Terps’ season won’t extend past Memorial Day weekend.

 

And that means there’s only so much time left for these sets of sisters to savor being teammates.

 

“I have my whole college career left,” Kelsey Cummings said. “I still have three more years, but I’m trying to cherish every moment I have left with her, even though she’ll still be close to home for a little bit.”

 

The postseason is not a time for a nostalgia tour, and the matter of advancing in the NCAA tournament is the top priority at this stage of the year.

 

Nonetheless, the chance to extend a stint as teammates with a sibling is an added bonus of a potential deep run this month.

 

“In the fall, you’re like ‘Oh, we’re here together,’ and of course, it is great, but you really didn’t think too much about it,” Shelby Mercer said. “But now, we’ve been trying to spend --- not really on purpose --- but we’ve really tried to spend as much time together as possible and I’ve really been enjoying it.”

 

Added Alice Mercer: “I think for us, I get one more day with her. [The end of] May is going to be here before we know it and I’m going to be going off, but it’s so nice to have these last couple moments with her before she’s on her own without me.”

Sister Sister is a special presentation of umterps.com.

 

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