Let's not kid ourselves. Maryland women's lacrosse already had a target on their backs. When you're the defending national champion, you get everyone's best shot. When you're the two-time defending national champion, and last year's squad was hyped as being perhaps the best of all time, you get everyone's best shot and then some.
The Terps went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation last season and won their second straight national title in a historic, 9-8, come-from-behind victory against UNC. The championship game, while not the greatest women's lacrosse game ever played (that title belongs to Maryland and UNC's 2013 triple overtime tilt in the national championship game), was still an instant classic and one of the most thrilling title games ever.
Taylor Cummings will probably finish her career at Maryland as one of the most decorated and accomplished women's lacrosse players EVER. She has lost a grand total of three games during her career at Maryland. Will she be able to lead Maryland to an undefeated season and a third straight national championship in her senior year?
The Road Ahead
Here is the top-20 preseason poll. I've put Maryland and the ranked teams that they will have to face in the regular season in bold.
Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Rankings
2. North Carolina
4. Stony Brook
6. Penn State
7. Notre Dame
8. Boston College
13. Johns Hopkins
17. Loyola (Md.)
18. Ohio State
19. James Madison
20. Southern California
The Terps will take on UNC and Syracuse, the two teams they beat in last year's Final Four, on the road. Not only will they be road games, but Maryland will be playing them both in their first five games of the season. North Carolina is the third game on the schedule and Syracuse is fifth.
After the Terrapins play Syracuse, their next four games are against No. 10 Florida (on the road), No. 16 Penn (on the road), No. 19 James Madison (at home) and No. 5 Northwestern (at home). That's five games in a row against ranked teams. Maryland will have to play Northwestern, Penn State and Ohio State in conference play, and will probably have to play one or two of them again in the Big Ten Tournament.
Maryland beat 10 ranked teams in the regular season last year. They were undefeated heading into the Big Ten Tournament but lost to Ohio State in the quarters. This year they'll have to play 11 before they hit tournament play.
The Terps are the two-time defending national champions. They'll face a loaded schedule with a stacked team and the No. 2 recruiting class in the country.
Do the Terrapins have some things to figure out? Absolutely. You can't really replace Brooke Griffin and Megan Douty. They were two of the best ever to play at Maryland. Kristen Lamon was a match-up nightmare. She's gone. Alex Fitzpatrick was a locked-in veteran goalie with nerves of steel. She's gone. Casey Pepperman was a savvy veteran defender with great instincts. She's gone too.
With all that in mind, Maryland still has the best player in the country on their team. Cummings dominates the game on offense, defense and on the draw. If you like watching quality lacrosse and you like watching stars play like stars, you need to catch some Maryland women's lacrosse games this season.
Taylor Cummings is very much like Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone. They're all gone after this year, and you may not see anyone that talented for a long, long time. That, my friends, is the bottom line.