Game-breaker for Terps also is a game-changer

Women's lacrosse: Such is her impact on the sport that Maryland's Jen Adams, seeking her fourth NCAA title, puts fans in the stands and has girls emulating both her game and pigtails.

May 18, 2001|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Jen Adams lingers at Ludwig Field after every Maryland game in College Park, holding court amid a dozen or so little girls clutching lacrosse sticks and Terrapins programs.

The girls are clearly in awe.

One brings Adams a crayon drawing. Some want to talk with her. They all want her autograph.

But most of all, they want to play lacrosse the way she does.

The 21-year-old Australian wields a lacrosse stick with precision and dexterity never before seen in the women's game. The most prolific scorer in collegiate women's lacrosse history, she piles up points the way the Terrapins pile up national championships.

With her college career winding down as No. 1 Maryland heads into tonight's final four showdown with No. 5 Princeton at Homewood Field, Adams has amassed 434 points. The previous record of 420, set by Delaware's Karen Emas, held up for 17 years, until Adams broke it last week.

With that record and her emergence as the focal point of a Maryland team that has won six consecutive national titles, Adams has drawn attention to her sport like no one before her.

"I know there were people ... who just came to see Jen Adams," said Dartmouth coach Amy Patton, whose May 4 home game against the Terps drew more than 2,500.

"She's being touted as one of the best lacrosse players ever, so, of course, all the young girls in the area wanted to come and watch her play," said Patton. "I definitely feel she's having an impact on lacrosse. Down the road, it's going to be more obvious. More and more young kids are becoming interested, and they want to be like Jen Adams. It's kind of like `being like Mike.' "

Whether Adams is the best player ever in collegiate women's lacrosse is still open to debate.

Adams said there are at least 10 better. Others put her into more elite company with players such as former Terps Kelly Amonte and Sarah Forbes, former Virginia star Cherie Greer and Emas, but they are reluctant to single out Adams in a game that has changed drastically over the past few decades.

"She's most certainly the best college player in the game right now," said Erin Brown, former Terps All-American, World Cup veteran, and now the women's division director of US Lacrosse. "The best player of all time can only be judged on an even playing field, which we don't have."

Players from Emas' era used wooden sticks. Just a few years ago, Amonte, Greer, and Forbes played without a restraining line - which limits the number of players within 30 yards of the goal - making openings to the goal harder to find.

Still, Adams' popularity with fans and the impact she likely is having on the game's future are unmatched.

"She's done a lot for the game and for Maryland," said fellow Terps All-American Quinn Carney. "We've never had the crowds of little girls coming up and wanting autographs. She's had good timing, too, for breaking the record and being on the [television] news stations. She's really giving lacrosse a name."

Maryland coach Cindy Timchal likens Adams to Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, who had a tremendous impact on the growth of women's soccer as a spectator sport in the United States.

"Jen might be the athlete that can break that barrier, like Gary Gait did in men's lacrosse," said Timchal. "There may be possibilities beyond coaching to actually take what she's done in college to the next level, whether it's some kind of professional league, or something else. It's a great story for those who are really into lacrosse, because we've never had that."

Some young fans even wear their hair in "Jen Adams pigtails" - a fashion statement created by accident when Adams had her long hair trimmed to shoulder length after her freshman year. She began winding her hair, too short for the ponytail she used to wear, into tight "knobs" on each side of her head.

Since she changed hairstyle, the accolades have poured in - twice National Player of the Year and in 2000, Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournament Most Valuable Player, ACC Female Athlete of the Year, and GTE Academic All-American of the Year.

It's all coincidence to Adams, but a few superstitious teammates insist that she keep her hair short.

Adams, featured in Sports Illustrated last week, welcomes the fan and media attention for the spotlight it shines on her sport and on her team, but she becomes uncomfortable when the focus narrows to her personal success.

"I always hope that people don't get caught up in the individual thing," said Adams. "In a team sport like lacrosse, it's not like one individual can be doing these things alone. All those records are a reflection of the amazing team that I have backing me up and the coaching staff that's out there."

Adams shares credit for the development of her stick skills with assistant coach Gait, who has been known for his deft stick handling since he led Syracuse to three national titles a decade ago.

Thriving in the free atmosphere Timchal and Gait foster at Maryland, Adams has developed a knack for finishing plays that most others wouldn't attempt.

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