A title run in a walk

Women's lacrosse: On her way to building a dynasty at Maryland, coach Cindy Timchal has seemingly made her pursuit a simple one.

May 14, 1999|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

No other Division I lacrosse team -- men's or women's -- has won four consecutive titles. Yet Maryland women's coach Cindy Timchal has made it look easy.

In her second year at Maryland, the Terrapins won the 1992 national championship.

"In '92 when you win, you think you're going to win it again and again," Timchal said, "but you learn very quickly that it isn't easy to win again."

It took the Terps until 1995 to reclaim the crown, but they have worn it ever since.

Timchal's dynasty rolls into Homewood Field for tonight's national semifinal against No. 5 Penn State as the overwhelming favorite to win a consecutive fifth title. The No. 1 Terps (19-0) have won 26 straight games and, this season, have beaten each of the other final four teams.

Timchal's record at Maryland is 146-11 with five national championships. At one point, the Terps won a Division I record 50 consecutive games.

In nine years at Maryland, Timchal's worst season was 14-3. Her worst finish in the NCAA tournament? A semifinal loss in 1993. Every other year, she has taken the Terps to the national title game.

"Maryland's going to have to have a really off day and somebody is going to have to have a really on day to beat them," said Loyola coach Diane Aikens.

"They walk on the field the first day of practice and they expect to win the national championship," Aikens said. "It's amazing. They have that killer instinct attitude that wins them ballgames. I think teams go to Maryland looking to keep the game close instead of looking to win."

To Timchal, that "killer instinct attitude" is nothing more than her players' confidence in themselves and in their teammates. She develops that confidence by empowering her players to make the game their own.

The coaches work the Terps hard to prepare for game situations, but, Timchal said, they have a high tolerance for mistakes. Her game plan is flexible, allowing the players to seize opportunities that emerge as a game unfolds without fear that they will be benched for mistakes.

"She makes it so safe for the kids to try new things and to figure things out for themselves," said Virginia coach Julie Myers, whose Cavaliers have fallen to Maryland in two of the past three national title games. "She's so relaxed, and they just follow her lead."

"She wants her players to take chances, because you're not going to push yourself to the limit unless you take chances," said Cathy Nelson, a student assistant coach and two-time Terps All-America attacker.

From the outside, it's easy to define Maryland women's lacrosse by wins and titles, but Timchal said those are just byproducts of what Maryland lacrosse really means. Her coaching philosophy focuses on people.

By fostering strong bonds with her players and between her players on and off the field, Timchal has created a team dynamic that's hard to beat. There are star players but no superstar egos.

"Not one person on our team is out for personal glory," said Kristin Sommar, a 1998 All-American along with Jenkins and Kahoe. "It is a team game. If you love your teammates, you want the best for each other."

That philosophy has evolved into tradition, passed on from veteran Terps to the youngsters right along with the X's and O's of attack and defense.

Certainly, winning makes everything easier, but the Terps have maintained that team focus even through their losses. Last year, they lost the first two games of the season only to pull together to win the national championship.

"Maryland lacrosse, by definition, is about a whole lot of intangibles such as compassion, caring and love for their teammates," Timchal said. "It goes beyond the winning and the scoreboard, and that's what may set us apart, because we know who we are when we step out on the field."

Timchal's style on the field is easygoing. The way she sits calmly on the bench before a game or laughs in a pre-game huddle belies just how difficult it is to win a national title over and over again.

"Cindy works hard, a lot harder than people think she does," Aikens said. "To stay at that level when everyone is coming after you -- I can't imagine it's not stressful to be in that position all the time."

The key to Timchal's success just may lie in the way she handles the pressure to maintain the winning tradition and, more importantly, how she helps her players handle those expectations.

"You just can't focus on winning a national championship," Timchal said. "You have to focus on your team and having fun and enjoying each game. As a coach, it puts in perspective really instilling in your athletes to play the best they can play and focus in on themselves rather than focus on the outcome."

Timchal spends a lot of time on the mental aspects of the game and has brought in a sports psychologist to work with the Terrapins a few times.

Goalie Alex Kahoe said Timchal does not expect the Terps to ignore the nervousness that may accompany big games.

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