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Despite an early ending, Maryland women’s lacrosse’s tight-knit culture shined through in 2023

The Terps fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the past three seasons.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

There’s a universal expectation that the women’s lacrosse team at Maryland’s flagship university will consistently perform exceptionally in the state’s official team sport. And why shouldn’t there be? Terps women’s lacrosse head coach Cathy Reese is arguably the most accomplished coach in the game’s history. Furthermore, the Terps are perennially blessed with an abundance of top-flight recruits.

The bottom line is that lacrosse has long been an integral piece of the sports culture at Maryland. So when the Terps faltered to James Madison in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, 15-14, there was a palpable sense of disappointment.

“I’m proud of our team’s effort,” Reese said after the loss. “The game came down to the wire and really could have gone either way. It hurts to lose.”

Maryland led by four goals with 10 minutes left, but a sudden 5-0 run by James Madison put an end to the Terps’ season. Unfortunately, the collapse shrouded many of the positives of the program’s 2023 campaign.

Maryland entered the season without Aurora Cordingley, its leading scorer from last season. The superstar attacker posted a staggering 67 goals and 118 points before graduating, and the Terps desperately needed an answer for the void she left. The team was also tasked with integrating a plethora of transfer athletes and the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

The Terps had an up-and-down response in answering those questions.

Early on, the season outlook appeared rather grim when Maryland lost three of its first six games. But Reese, who has 16 years of head coaching experience, refused to believe the season was trending toward failure.

“This is just a season where we’re going to have to learn from experience and opportunity,” Reese said following a loss to Denver.

The players knew they weren’t playing up to their potential and that a shift needed to be made. At the same time, the team understood that its chemistry was still in the developmental phase.

They constantly repeated two words throughout the season: “trust” and “communication.” They never strayed from those words. After the 3-3 start, the Terps embarked on a nine-game win streak. And it wasn’t solely due to their talent. A shift was made, allowing each player to flourish in a specific role.

The journey created an opportunity for the team’s leaders to flourish. Captains Emily Sterling, Abby Bosco and Shaylan Ahearn constructed a competitive attitude and fostered much of the team’s blossoming.

Freshman midfielder Kori Edmondson, who rose to impressive heights during the winning streak, attributed her evolution in the draw circle to Ahearn’s teachings. Meanwhile, Bosco was successful in rallying the defensive corps. Having transferred to Maryland from Penn in 2021, she possessed the requisite experience and leadership qualities to assimilate the newcomers.

The Terps’ winning streak allowed for the development of a multitude of players. Edmondson’s six consecutive hat tricks proved that she can be one of the nation’s very best versatile midfielders for years to come.

“Kori, I think you could see how hard she went and what a tough player she is,” Reese said after the loss to Denver. “This is just the starting point as we get going into her career as a Terp.”

Mild-mannered junior attacker Chrissy Thomas burst onto the scene as well. She placed third on the team with 53 total points, despite starting just six games.

“She’s really kind of stepped up as the season’s gone on,” Reese said after a win over Penn. “I love her growth ... because she’s become more confident. We’re seeing her not just be able to feed the ball but score, too.”

Possibly the most encouraging growth came from junior attacker Eloise Clevenger. The IWLCA All-American had a reassuring sophomore campaign, taking over the reins as the leader of the offense. In some ways, she was Cordingley’s de facto replacement, shouldering much of the playmaking responsibility. In order to become that dominant threat, Reese knew she had to expand her game.

Clevenger racked up a staggering 47 assists this year, which was good for 11th most in the country. However, prior to 2023, her scoring game had left much to be desired. So Reese challenged her. She wanted to see the aggressive side of Clevenger.

The strategy panned out nicely, as the Terps’ point leader put up six games of two or more scores. Her offensive arsenal took a monumental leap, and the resulting production forced defenses to make some tough decisions in coverage.

“What a career day for her,” Reese said of Clevenger’s record-breaking eight-assist performance against Ohio State. “It was really just kind of a magical moment ... it’s just pretty powerful. So that was super cool.”

Even in record-breaking performances, the players were sure to first credit their teammates before talking about their own success. Early in the season, as the Terps were struggling to perform consistently, Reese implored the team to read the book Hard Hat: 21 Ways to Be a Great Teammate by Jon Gordon.

It outlined George Boiardi, a Cornell lacrosse player who died in 2004 after being struck by a ball during the fourth quarter of a game. Whether or not the book directly impacted the play of the Terps, it certainly offered a touching perspective on the impact and importance of great teammates.

It’s no secret that the Terps relish donning the Maryland uniform and sharing a locker room with their best friends. The culture that has been established has only inspired the talent to stick around.

Each of the seniors who started this year will be returning for their fifth season in 2024, and with yet another top-10 recruiting class, the Terps will look to make a run for a 16th national championship.