With a lacrosse stick in her hand, Maryland's Jen Adams makes every move seem effortless.
Even her most spectacular moves seem to flow with ease - and there are a lot of those eye-popping tricks these days. No one knows what the All-America junior attacker will do next."I've been playing with her for three years and I'm still stunned by half the stuff she does," said teammate Tonia Porras, an All-America defender who vies with Adams every day in practice.
Adams is so comfortable with a lacrosse stick that she can do almost anything with it. She sees the tiniest openings and excels at slipping the ball through them.
Behind-the-back shots and thread-the-needle passes have become a regular part of her game.
A short flip shot over her right shoulder is quickly becoming her trademark move. Just when collapsing defenders think they have her hemmed in on crease, Adams, with her left side to the goal, will flip the ball over her shoulder and into the net.
She always keeps opponents guessing and often leaves them shaking their heads in disbelief."She's very shifty. That's something you can't teach and it's very hard to defend," said Georgetown coach Kim Simons, whose No.8 Hoyas face the No.1 Terrapins in this afternoon's National Collegiate Tournament quarterfinal game in College Park."The other thing she does very well is she reads the defense. She sees what the defenders are giving her instead of deciding what she wants to do and trying to accomplish it," Simons said.
That just may be Adams' secret. She doesn't force anything. She lets the game come to her."Jen never goes out there and thinks, `This is what I'm going to do today.' It just kind of happens," Porras said. "You can tell she loves the game so much that it just comes to her."
As a result, Adams has reaped almost every postseason honor and is mowing down Terps' scoring records at a rapid rate.
The 1999 National Player of the Year and the 2000 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, Adams has led DivisionI in scoring for two straight years.
By the time she graduates, Adams likely will break every Maryland scoring record set by Kelly Amonte, the Terps' only four-time women's lacrosse All-American.
When Amonte set her records between 1993 and 1996, they seemed destined to last for decades, but Adams started breaking them as a sophomore.
Last year, Adams set single-season standards for goals (71) and points (117). This year, she may eclipse both marks, having accumulated 68goals and 114points so far. She's also likely to surpass Amonte's 1996 total of 48assists since she has 46 now with as many as three games to go.
On the Terps' career charts, Adams ranks second in all three categories with 166goals, 109assists and 275points. She's quickly closing in on Amonte's records - 187goals, 132assists and 319points.
Adams' creative style began to emerge back home in Brighton, South Australia. She first picked up a stick at a clinic when she was 8. She's barely put it down since.
After years of playing in the back yard with her sister Trisha, now 22, Adams already had developed exceptional stick skills before she arrived at Maryland."A lot of it has to do with having the benefit of someone at home who I could always throw with," said Adams, 20. "We'd play around outside and compete and try new tricks. If you enjoy something and you love to do it, you'll spend a lot of time doing that. Practice makes as good to perfect as you can get."
Once she got to College Park, Adams never stopped trying new things. She flourished in the atmosphere of creative freedom fostered by Maryland coaches Cindy Timchal and Gary Gait."The coaches we have here are utilizing more stick skills, more tricks than I've ever seen before, but if we had seen them back home, we'd have tried them out," said Adams, who played on Australia's world champion under-19 team in 1996.
After watching Gait, one of the most highly-skilled athletes ever to play the men's game, Adams took her game to new heights. She has tried to emulate his moves, including the behind-the-back shot."I might try that shot a couple times at practice and I'm not afraid if it fails. My teammates aren't going to laugh and then I'll be able to pull it off in the end. It's sort of subconscious. When I catch the ball, I don't really know I'm going to do it. Sometimes it takes me by surprise."
So what does an athlete who could pick up her second straight national Player of the Year award as a junior do for an encore?
She keeps right on working.
Adams isn't impressed by the individual awards. She's even a little embarrassed by them, believing she's no more deserving than the rest of the five-time national championship team."For Jen, it's much like much like it is with most of the best players," Gait said. "She's pushing herself for the team. If she didn't develop those skills and bring her game to the level she knows she's capable of, she probably would feel she's letting down the team. I think that's what keeps her focussed."Any time you're one of the top players - or the best player - you want to stay there. You want to go out and prove that every day and that's usually why those players are the best."