The Tao Of Winning

UM lacrosse women stick to their philosophy in their bid for another championship season.

May 09, 2001|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The wind whips up the air on Ludwig Field, leaving a frigid practice green for the hottest team in college sports.

The girls - that's what women lacrosse players at the University of Maryland call themselves - drive up to the field in twos and threes. It's a striking scene: tall, thin, short, thick bodies, all toned, and every face a picture of simple beauty. The kind of beauty that comes with confidence, beauty that defines women comfortable with power. The other striking detail is that everyone wears a pony tail, everyone, that is, except midfielder Jen Adams, first among equals, whose short blond pigtails are as much a trademark as her tricky stick work.

They belong to a team that has a better record in national college championship games than the Yankees do in the World Series. It's a team that's undefeated and, beginning tomorrow, will defend its title for the seventh consecutive time.

But numbers are a mere distraction.

On the eve of a big match against Princeton, the girls stroll onto the field, fling their gear bags and car keys in the grass, and strip off their jackets. The talk is of shaving sunburned legs, new restaurants on U.S. 1 and who-said-what. Jokes, too. Chatter is nonstop as they lace up their lacrosse shoes. Two girls break away to pass the ball. Two more arrive, one running to hug the other. More gather. More hug. Courtney Hobbs lets out a warrior's scream. Someone breaks into song:

Hot cross buns, Hot cross buns, One a penny, Two a penny, Hot cross buns.

Nobody gives a command, but they all know when it's time. Slowly, they drift toward the edge of the field and drop down, cross-legged, in a circle.

Some close their eyes, others daydream. Tori Wellington, a co-captain, seems to pray. Minutes pass. This is meditation, a ritual before each practice. This is the time to center oneself, to picture your best play. To focus on yourself, your inner self.

This is the way of Maryland.

Maryland lacrosse.

This is the way of a team that appears headed to its 10th Final Four. The team about to produce the best scorer of all time. The team with the best head coach. The best assistant coach. The team that has changed the way the game is played. Produced dozens of All-Americans. The team that keeps winning, year after year.

They are deep within themselves when the coach, Cindy Timchal, drives onto the field. They hoist their sticks as they rise, move to the center, and chant: We come together. We seek together. We win together. We lose together. We stay together. We serve each other. We love each other. We laugh together. Go Terps!

The line about laughing, the girls added themselves. The rest was composed with the help of a spiritual adviser last year. The girls rely on his philosophy. And on this night, they're grateful for one particular insight - slowing down is sometimes faster than speeding up.

The team has come off a stretch in which it faced four of the top 20 teams in seven days.

The past two days in Orlando for the Atlantic Coast Conference championships, the Terps got fried by the sun, saw their star player walloped in the head, the second-ranked player dehydrated, and their best defensive player take a stick on the nose. They played two of the top 20 teams again. They beat Virginia by one point and Duke by two. The way home was equally brutal: heat stroke, delayed flights, a traffic jam on I-95.

Before the Princeton game, they feel drained. They feel vulnerable against the fifth-ranked Tigers.

The coaches have done the usual work before a big game. They've researched recent plays, watched the videos. They know what team members should work on. But Maryland doesn't put pressure on itself, not tonight.

Instead, practice is light. And, the players have been in and out of Timchal's office all day.

"Sometimes we talk instead of do," the coach says.

This is the way of Maryland.

Maryland lacrosse.

It's a mind game.

Nobody can copy it, though Duke has tried, right down to hiring the same spiritual adviser. Other teams may drill harder, three hours to Maryland's two. But can they copy the easy way Maryland girls make each other laugh? The way they vie to get one another humming the silliest song: If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands ...

This is a team that has a life of its own, a history off the field. A history handed down by women who have expectations, not about winning and losing, but about how to behave toward each other.

Listen to them in shooting drills: "Good grab."

"Hey, hon."

"Oh my god, what am I doing?"

"We'll sink them."

"Yeah, I like that."

"Pretty-Pretty."

"You are the woman."

You'll never hear angry words between Maryland girls when a teammate makes a mistake on the field.

Senior Meg Carrington, sidelined because of a knee injury, recalls being in awe of the team at her first practice. She was shocked to find that they got along so well.

"One of the things about Maryland lacrosse is the sense of unity we got once we stepped on the field," she explains.

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