Maryland-Princeton: two styles, 10-title run

Over past 10 years, they have ruled women's game

College Lacrosse

April 28, 2004|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Maryland coach Cindy Timchal and Princeton coach Chris Sailer approach women's lacrosse from widely different perspectives.

Timchal's Terrapins are a spontaneous bunch, risk-takers and freelancers by design. The Tigers rely on a more disciplined choreography, methodical and structured in style.

"That just shows you that there's more than one path to the top," said Virginia coach Julie Myers. "I don't think Cindy and Chris could be at more different ends of the continuum, but it works for both of them."

Does it ever.

Between them, Maryland and Princeton have won every Division I women's lacrosse championship for the past decade.

The Terrapins, who head to Princeton tonight for their annual meeting with the Tigers at 7:30, won an astonishing seven consecutive national titles between 1995 and 2001. The Tigers provided the bookends, winning in 1994 as well as the past two years. No other Division I team has ever repeated as champion.

Despite their differing takes on X's and O's, Timchal and Sailer have a few things in common other than graduating from Haverford High in Pennsylvania before playing college lacrosse at West Chester and Harvard, respectively.

Both are intelligent, shrewd and hard working with a sense of humor. Both know how to recruit and how to get the most out of their players.

They also bring open minds to the coaching box. Towson coach Missy Holmes has seen national championships from both sides, as a Terps player and as a Tigers assistant coach.

"Those two coaches do a great job of adapting with the game and they're not afraid to change, which is why they've had consistent success," said Holmes, who spent three years as Sailer's assistant before taking the Towson job last summer.

No one has more college women's lacrosse coaching victories than Timchal, now 309-69 after 14 seasons at Maryland and nine at Northwestern. She has guided the Terps to 13 NCAA tournaments and eight titles.

Sailer, 229-72 in 18 years at Princeton, has taken the Tigers to 12 NCAA tournaments and won three titles.

Heading into tonight's game, the No. 1 Tigers (14-0) remain the odds-on favorite to win another national crown, riding a 23-game winning streak. Fourth-ranked Maryland (12-3) holds a 17-5 lead in the series, but the Tigers have won the past two meetings.

With only two weeks left before the NCAA tournament, fans are eager to see if Princeton can make it three in a row. The word "dynasty" rings through the air occasionally, but Sailer just laughs when she hears it.

"We've only won two. For Maryland to have repeated six times is just extraordinary. I can't imagine anyone would think that could happen again. It's hard enough to win one let alone seven. There are so many more good programs out there."

What made Maryland lacrosse so distinct for so long stemmed largely from innovation.

An already strong Terps program took off with the arrival of stick wizard Gary Gait as assistant coach in 1995. He helped the Terps develop the stick tricks, slick set offenses and quick-strike tendencies that turned them into the most prolific team in NCAA history.

"Maryland was all about stick work, advancing the game and being on the cutting edge," said Crista Samaras, a former Princeton All-American who now designs equipment for Warrior Lacrosse.

"They were high tech and they showed how women could get through the glass ceiling and play like the guys. A lot of that came from Gary Gait. That not only brought attention to the game, but it brought the game where it was inevitably heading and it did it a lot faster."

Not only did the Terps play the game differently, but they also thought about it differently. Throughout their title run, the Terps never doubted that they would win. As a result, they almost always did, losing just five games in seven years and rolling up four unbeaten seasons.

"It wasn't just that they won seven in a row, but when the games were close, they always seemed to win, whether it was by one goal or in overtime," said Sailer. "They were light-years ahead of everyone in terms of mentality. Everyone else wanted to win so badly, and Maryland wasn't focused on that."

Sailer, whose teams lost to Maryland four times in the NCAA tournament during the Terps' title run, liked what she saw.

She said she read a few books by Dr. Jerry Lynch, the California sports psychologist whom Timchal brought on board in 1996 as her team's spiritual adviser. With Lynch, the Terps focus less on winning and more on their love for the game - playing in the moment and playing for themselves and their teammates.

While Sailer began adopting some of those principles, she kept her own, more structured style in place.

"There's all different ways of winning," Timchal said. "You don't have to have a certain style of play. Watching Princeton, you go, `They have good ball control. We have to control the ball more,' but that doesn't work for everybody."

Princeton also has an innovative style, more defensive in nature, more controlled and more confident.

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