Jenkins cog in Terps' machine

Senior, powerful UM put on their game faces

March 03, 2000|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Maryland midfielder Christie Jenkins still has no idea why she was named Atlantic Coast Conference women's lacrosse Player of the Year last spring.

"I was so surprised," Jenkins said. "I think everyone is surprised [to receive individual accolades], because we just go out there and we play the best that we can. We don't feel we're doing anything spectacular."

It's hard to classify Terrapins women's lacrosse as anything but spectacular after a fifth straight NCAA Division I title and a 21-0 season in which the Terps won the national final by 10 goals over No. 2 Virginia.

Jenkins, a high-scoring, 5-foot-10 senior, has provided her share of plays for the Terps' highlight reel, but doing the unspectacular things nearly flawlessly has brought her just as much notice.

"She's solid. She doesn't make a lot of errors," said North Carolina coach Jenny Slingluff Levy. "She's a pretty big link in their success."

On a team loaded with talent, including five other 1999 All-Americans and three other U.S. national team players, it's difficult to stand out as an individual. Jenkins said she and her teammates don't try.

"We're just playing what we've been taught and doing it the best we can," she said. "We're not focusing on those personal outcomes; we're focusing on the team outcome."

That's a big part of a Terps philosophy that has helped them win six national championships in the past eight years. They are favored to win a seventh as they hit the road for the season opener tonight at No. 2 Duke, followed by Sunday's visit to No. 5 North Carolina.

Jenkins, as a second-year captain, helps set the Terps standard.

"She shows a lot of leadership qualities for this team," said Terrapins coach Cindy Timchal. "Like most of our captains, she's more of a silent leader. We don't have a lot of rah-rah types. Leadership is summed up by gaining respect by what you do. That's what makes Christie a very special part of a great team."

Jenkins has always been a scorer. Since her freshman year, she has compiled at least 37 points each season. Last year, she was the Terps' second-leading scorer, netting 55 goals and adding 30 assists. Her 85 points ranked as the sixth-highest single-season total in Maryland history.

But her contributions go way beyond her ability to score.

She wasn't a big scorer during the ACC regular season, but the conference coaches still voted her their Player of the Year.

"Christie excels because she's so versatile," Timchal said. "She creates a lot of turnovers on defense. She's a great stick checker. She reads the evolving play very well. She can just play wherever you put her."

Slingluff Levy agreed.

"She's very strong through the midfield in their transition game. She wants the ball. She protects the ball," said the Tar Heels coach. "They need her out there for leadership, discipline and momentum."

Jenkins' offensive production gained momentum last year as the season went on -- and as the games got closer. She scored three goals in a 12-11 overtime win vs. James Madison; five in the 19-17 ACC tournament-opening victory over North Carolina in overtime; four in the 13-5 win over Virginia in the ACC final, and three in the come-from-behind 17-13 win over Penn State in the NCAA semifinals.

"That's the mark of a good player -- someone who is ready for the big game and plays well in the big game and she does that," Slingluff Levy said.

In addition to being honored by the ACC, Jenkins earned first-team All-America status last season after being named second team in 1998.

Jenkins has come a long way since the days when she played with a wooden stick at Penncrest High in Media, Pa.

She thrives on the creative atmosphere fostered by Timchal and assistant coach Gary Gait, a scoring sensation at Syracuse 10 years ago and an indoor lacrosse professional ever since. That artistic freedom is one of the things that drew the high school All-American into Maryland's fold.

"Visiting other schools, I heard their game was more traditional, but Cindy and Gary brought in this aspect of kind of free-lancing it," Jenkins. said "We're able to try new things, and we don't get punished for trying anything because most of the time, with the stickwork Gary's taught us, it works."

Jenkins also credits two years of training with the U.S. national team for boosting the level of her game. The international game, which is more physical and is played without a restraining line, tests her in different ways than the college game.

"A lot of national teams' players don't get to play that often. I'm the youngest on the team, so they're out there to show they still have it. They push me and make me work 10 times harder," said Jenkins, a communications major looking no further past her May graduation than a possible July Australia tour with the national team.

In the meantime, Jenkins wants to help bring yet another national title to College Park.

To do that, however, she won't focus on anything more than playing her best lacrosse in the game at hand. Although she has helped win 28 straight games and has never lost a national title, she hasn't forgotten the losses.

"I look back and remember my freshman year, when I first came in. They were coming off two undefeated seasons similar to what we're trying to go through and I remember losing to Loyola," said Jenkins of the 7-6 loss that ended a 50-game Terps winning streak.

"I look back on that and I think anything can happen," she said. "It just makes me push harder to make sure that this is not going to be the game where that happens again."

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