When Naval Academy senior Elise Chapdelaine heard last summer that Cindy Timchal was about to take over the Midshipmen women's lacrosse program as it moves from club to Division I status next year, she didn't know who Timchal was.
The former Maryland coach was not surprised that a college club player had never heard of her. She was, however, surprised to learn from a club coach in Texas that the players there had never heard of Maryland's 10-time national-championship program.
"We live in a world that thinks we're all that," said Timchal, with a laugh, "and the kids in Texas didn't know Maryland had a lacrosse program, so I guess in many ways it keeps what you do in life in perspective."
In women's lacrosse, however, Timchal is "all that."
During 16 years as Maryland's head coach, the Terrapins won eight national crowns, including seven straight from 1995 to 2001. She never had a losing record and the Terps advanced to the NCAA tournament every year, reaching the final four 12 times.
No other coach in NCAA women's lacrosse history has won more games - 336, including those from nine years at Northwestern. At Maryland, she was 260-46, a .854 winning percentage.
Chapdelaine, who played high school lacrosse on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, started researching as soon as she heard Timchal's name.
"I immediately went online and looked up who this person was, because apparently it was a big deal," she said. "When I found out who she was, that was definitely exciting. One particular thing really stood out: the winningest coach in lacrosse history."
For Timchal, who said she was happy and felt secure in her job at Maryland, the possibilities that Navy presented were too much to resist.
"It was a wonderful and exciting opportunity and one that I wanted to be a part of," Timchal said. "There's a lot of good energy here to support this program and the possibility of doing something here like I did at Maryland and at Northwestern."
At first, Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said he talked with Timchal generally about Navy's transition. When he heard she might be interested, he said, he sought and was granted permission by Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow to formally pursue Timchal for the program.
In August, Timchal left Maryland's gold-standard program for Navy, which will move to Division I and become a full member of the Patriot League next year.
"Cindy's leadership is just dynamic," Gladchuk said, "and she brings a huge sense of confidence to everyone. It's only a matter of time before the Naval Academy [women's lacrosse] program grows to be respected at the Division I level."
Timchal knows something about getting a program off the ground. In 1982, she started Northwestern's program from scratch and took the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament five times. After the 1990 season, she left for College Park.
The Terps were already established with two national titles, but it took her only two seasons to get them back to the top.
Coaching Navy's club team for a year was important for Timchal to get to know the players, to put in her coaching system and to recruit.
"When I was [at Northwestern]," Timchal said, "we started immediately playing at the varsity level, so I like this idea of this transition year."
This season, the Midshipmen (12-4), have played their full club schedule as well as some Division I teams. While they are unbeaten against club teams, they are 1-4 against Division I opponents, having beaten only Howard. Wednesday, they fell to Davidson, 16-6.
Most of the current Midshipmen were not blue-chip Division I prospects when they opted for the Naval Academy, but they have sustained a strong club program. Timchal, who will bring in about 10 recruits next year, said there is no lack of commitment.
"They know they're the bridge between the club and competing at the Division I level. All of them really bought into the fact that we raised the bar a little bit. We practice a little bit harder. We raised the level of commitment," said Timchal, whose team has qualified for the national club tournament in Denver, May 9-12.
Erin Rawlick, a freshman from C. Milton Wright, is thrilled with the new coach.
"I think she can see the potential everyone has and especially the team and works really hard to reach that," Rawlick said. "That's a great part of her coaching, that she makes us give 100 percent."
Although Chapdelaine is ready to graduate and move on to flight school, she said, "I guess a part of me wishes I could stay and play. I've learned more in the past few months about lacrosse than I did in all the years previously."
Timchal now will try to bring in the same kind of recruits she had at Maryland - a few marquee players surrounded by a lot of good athletes. At Maryland, she had a knack for turning strong athletes who weren't always the best players at their high schools into superb lacrosse players, sometimes All-Americans.