UM women bring out best in foes

Defending champion Terps command respect despite youth

Cornell is test today

College Lacrosse

May 12, 2002|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Almost every time Maryland's women's lacrosse team lost a game this season, the Terrapins watched the victors celebrate as if they had won a national championship. Some even took team pictures to commemorate the victory.

After all, wins over Maryland have been tough to come by recently. Only three teams had managed to beat the Terrapins over the previous seven seasons as they rolled up consecutive national titles.

It didn't matter that these Terps (11-9) were mostly underclassmen and that they struggled just to stay above .500.

The celebrations kept coming, and for the Terps, watching them sometimes proved harder to take than losing the game.

"Every time a team would do that, it just made you really upset," said senior Courtney Hobbs. "I give those teams all rights to celebrate like that. Some of them had never beaten us before. But it was really hard."

After a while, however, the Terps began to see a different side to those celebrations.

"It was a sign that teams still respect us," said freshman Acacia Walker. "We haven't gone 23-0, but everybody still comes out to play their best against the University of Maryland."

The Terps proved in Thursday's NCAA tournament opener that they still deserve that respect.

Jumping on No. 5 Loyola 5-0 in the first 11 minutes, the Terps took a 13-8 victory that sent them into today's quarterfinal at No. 6 Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y.

Thursday's performance eased a lot of growing pains.

The four starting freshmen - Walker, Greta Sommers, Kristie Leggio and Annie Collins - blended like veterans. The attack, paced by veterans Hobbs, Sonia Judd, Kelly Coppedge and Meredith Egan, struck quickly. The first-year defensive unit of Megan Kelly, Julie Shank and Sommers, along with Molly Lambert, handled Loyola's All-America attackers. Goalie Alexis Venechanos enjoyed one of her best outings.

"[Thursday] was probably the best win I've ever had in college," Hobbs said. "It's exciting for us seniors to see seven or eight new starters on the team and to see what the potential of this team is."

This season has been one of more growth and more challenges than perhaps any previous Terps team. Losing more games in a season than any team in the 29-year history of the program certainly challenged Maryland's trademark mental toughness and positive outlook.

"We've had the pressure of being at the top always," said Hobbs, who lost only one game during her first three years as a Terp. "It's hard to lose. We've had to realize it's OK to lose and you can still move on from that."

While the veterans were getting used to new roles as leaders on and off the field, the four freshmen were getting their baptisms under fire. It took awhile - and some reassurance from the older players - for the youngsters to get over feeling that losing was their fault.

"Normally, you have a year or two to get the feel of things, but we were just shoved out on the field with no experience," Walker said. "Sometimes we felt we weren't doing our job because we weren't winning all our games. It was hard then, but now we realized we've gotten to that comfort zone at the end of the year and that's when it counts."

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