AACC midfielder Meghenn Jackson (center) looks for an opening… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Many in the area know that Anne Arundel Community College has an exceptional women's lacrosse team, but not everyone keeps up with its success. And if ever there's been a season to follow the team, this is it.
"Sometimes teachers or my friends' parents will ask, 'Hey, what's your record?'" said AACC goaltender Brittany Kincer of Glen Burnie, who adds that she prefers not to boast about the team's prowess. "I'll say, 'We're doing pretty well.' And they'll say, 'Well, what's your record?'
"And I'll say, 'We're 16-0.'"
The Pioneers not only finished their regular season undefeated; they rank as the nation's top-ranked junior college program. AACC is also the top seed in the National Junior College Athletic Association women's lacrosse Region 20 tournament, which they are hosting this weekend. The first- and second-place winners will head to the 2012 national championship May 12-13 in Rochester, N.Y.
"I don't like to say that we're undefeated because with that comes a lot of meaning behind it, and I don't want to get too hotheaded about it," Kincer said. "I just want to go out there and play hard."
Last year, the Pioneers were national runners-up. This year, they went 8-0 in the Maryland Junior College Conference and held opponents to five goals or fewer in six games.
"No matter what anyone says, every game gets a little harder and a little harder and a little harder, and everybody wants to be the first to hang that little mark next to the 'L' column," said AACC coach Jim Griffiths, who is in his ninth season.
The Pioneers play in a division of collegiate lacrosse that has just under two dozen teams, so Griffiths regularly schedules nonconference games against four-year schools.
AACC began the season as the second-ranked team in NJCAA women's lacrosse behind Monroe Community College of Rochester, N.Y., which beat AACC, 8-6, in last year's title game. Monroe also handed AACC its only regular-season loss last year.
This year the teams maintained their positions in the polls until last month, when the second-ranked Pioneers avenged their national championship loss with a 13-12 win over previously unbeaten Monroe to claim NJCAA's top ranking.
AACC is led this year by NJCAA preseason player of the year Mary Milligan of Crofton, who ranks first in the association with 33 assists and fourth with 70 goals.
Milligan said being undefeated "definitely puts pressure on you. You know that there are no easy games or games that you can take off. It's hard work every day.
"Last year, we knew we could have won [the national championship], and we didn't show up," Milligan said. "This year, what's motivating us is showing up and working hard every day so that we don't have any regrets when we're at that last game."
After women's lacrosse became an NJCAA-sanctioned sport in 2004, AACC competed in the first four national championship games. The Pioneers finished as runners-up in 2004 and 2005 and won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. Last year's runner-up finish was AACC's first return trip to the championship game since 2007.
"The 2007 season was the last undefeated season we had," said Griffiths, "and it got harder and harder as we got closer and closer."
Griffiths said he is as proud of his players' academic prowess as he is of their accomplishments on the field. AACC has been the NJCAA All-Academic team for women's lacrosse in each of the last four years. All of his players will move on to four-year schools, where most will play lacrosse.
"The winning is a means to an end. The end is getting them as much help as they can get at a four-year school," Griffiths said. "I'm not going to stand here and say that going undefeated and winning a national championship isn't important to them. But we try to balance it."