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How Cathy Reese’s energetic approach has vaulted her into the Maryland record books

The Terps’ head coach broke the program wins record last week, and she isn’t slowing down one bit.

Cathy Reese Maryland women’s lacrosse Photo by Maryland Athletics

Jen Adams still remembers the first team meeting after she and Cathy Reese returned to College Park to lead the Maryland women’s lacrosse program.

The pair had spent the previous three years coaching at Denver, and Reese brought Adams with her to be her associate head coach and help revive their alma mater. Reese and Adams’s Maryland careers spanned from 1995-2001, when Maryland was nearly unbeatable. The Terps went 140-5, winning the national championship each year.

But the program Reese and Adams took over wasn’t at the same level. Maryland had gone just 68-34 the previous five years, including back-to-back first-round exits in the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2006. Their former coach, Cindy Timchal, left Maryland after the 2006 season to start the women’s lacrosse program at Navy.

That didn’t matter to Reese. Adams said she gave the players one message: they were good enough to win a national championship. Although Adams didn’t see that come to fruition before she accepted the head coaching job at Loyola in 2009, Maryland was well on its way.

“It may not have happened the first two years, but they were already on that path,” Adams said. “I don’t think there was ever doubt in her mind that she was going to win a national championship and a lot of games at Maryland.”

Adams was a freshman during Reese’s senior year, when she served as team captain. Even then, it was easy to tell that the future coach was a natural leader.

“The one thing that always stuck out was the ability on and off the field to help everyone be their best and grow,” Adams said. “She’s taken it into coaching and ... she doesn’t have to work on that, it’s just part of who she is.”

Reese told The Baltimore Sun last year that coaching wasn’t the initial plan, but she jumped at the opportunity. She served as an assistant under Timchal for five years before taking her first head coaching job at Denver in 2004. After winning just 15 games her first two seasons, the Pioneers went 16-5 in 2006 before it was time to come back home.

It’s never easy to follow a program legend, but Reese’s time with Timchal showed how to bring Maryland back. In her time as a player and assistant coach, all Maryland did was win. She took that same mindset and went to work, building a national contender once again.

Maryland jumped from 12-8 to 16-4 in her first season, earning the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Penn in the quarterfinals. The Terps finished 18-3 in 2008 before falling in the quarterfinals again, and advanced to the Final Four in 2009. In 2010, Maryland won its first national championship since 2001 after overcoming a 6-0 first-half deficit to topple five-time defending champion Northwestern. It was just a sign of things to come.

“When I played here, this is what I knew,” Reese said. “We went undefeated in (19)95, undefeated in (19)96 and you just came out and did your thing and you expected to put your best forward and be the best team you could be. ... That kind of stuff hasn’t changed in 20-plus years.”

Cathy Reese’s Maryland coaching career

2007: 16-4, NCAA Quarterfinals
2008: 18-3, NCAA Quarterfinals
2009: 21-1, Final Four
2010: 22-1, National Champions
2011: 21-2, NCAA Runner-Up
2012: 19-4, Final Four
2013: 22-1, NCAA Runner-Up
2014: 23-1, National Champions
2015: 21-1. National Champions
2016: 22-1, NCAA Runner-Up
2017: 23-0, National Champions
2018: 20-2, Final Four
2019: 14-0 (as of April 8)
Total: 262-21 (.926)

Taylor Cummings met Reese for the first time at a Maximum Exposure recruiting camp at Maryland in 2009. Reese ran the camp and meetings, and even though she wasn’t allowed to recruit the future three-time Tewaaraton winner yet, made a strong first impression.

“You could just tell how fun she was,” Cummings said. “I thought she was really cool.”

Alice Mercer went to the same camp a year later, but said she was terrified of being on a college campus and didn’t get to know Reese at the camp. But once the recruiting process started, the same personality that drew Cummings in appealed to Mercer as well.

“Even emailing back and forth, the personality came out pretty early,” Mercer said. “She just was so energized and spunky and was so easy to talk to.”

For both, that personality stayed the same when they arrived at College Park. Cummings said you get the same Reese at all times, whether it’s in a fall practice in freezing-cold weather or interacting with summer campers.

That personality allows Reese to bring out the best in her players, which can be a challenge. Of the 38 players on Maryland’s current roster, 24 were selected to play in the Under Armour All-American game. Nearly half have played limited minutes since coming to Maryland and could’ve possibly starred at other schools.

But Reese has mastered it. It starts at the beginning of the year, where every season is a clean slate and each team is a new team. From that point, she figures out what she needs to do to get the most out of that team, and how players respond to certain tactics. Cummings said she put a lot of pressure on herself, and Reese was excellent at knowing when to keep that pressure on or give some much-needed motherly assurance.

Cummings remembers getting crushed by Notre Dame during her senior year of fall ball, which could’ve been a jarring experience at a program where any loss is unexpected. But Reese pulled her and Mercer, who were team captains that year, aside and said not to worry because the team was still young and growing. That team rolled through the 2016 season before falling in the national championship game.

That attitude carries down from the litany of All-Americans to the last players on the bench. Mercer said Reese has figured out how to get everyone to buy into something bigger than themselves, making everyone excited for their teammates’ success. The team celebrates every win as something that matters, even ones that those outside the program take for granted.

Combine that with a creative, free-flowing style on the field that allows players to thrive, and it’s a recipe for tremendous success. In 13 years at Maryland, Reese has gone a whopping 262-21, won four national championships and advanced to 10 straight Final Fours.

For a program as good as Maryland women’s lacrosse is year in and year out, only one goal comes to mind. The Terps have won 14 national championships, including a whopping 11 in the past 24 years. Wherever the season ends, teams that good usually expect to be hoisting the trophy when the final clock hits zero.

However, Reese has cultivated a culture with smaller goals. A lot smaller. For Maryland, the most important game is the one happening next. When she talked to reporters last week, she said her only focus was on Virginia, and the shift to undefeated Michigan would have to wait. It may be coachspeak, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

“We have a program that has a lot of success, and if you focus on the end result and the big picture down the road, you miss out on all the great things that are happening in front of you,” Reese said. “You miss out on opportunities to learn and get better. So for us it’s important ... and I think that when our team can take that mindset and focus on the details, that’s what going to help us in the long run.”

The attitude starts in practice. Senior midfielder Jen Giles says Reese makes sure the team is enjoying every moment, and not trying to get caught up in the end results. Mercer said she would tell the team to focus on the present moment and not worry about everything else that’s going on in their lives. The mindset helps take off some of the pressure, especially since everyone already knows what the common end goal is.

“I think to an extent she all knows we’re all thinking about it,” Mercer said of winning a title. “You go to Maryland dreaming of winning a national championship, so she knows she doesn’t have to bring it up because every day that’s in the back of our minds.”

This applies not only on the field, but off the field and after lacrosse. Cummings wishes she didn’t waste as much time worrying about trivial day-to-day things, and instead brought one of Reese’s sayings to life sooner:

“You won’t remember scores and assists, but you’ll remember the people you met and the memories you made.”

Earlier this season, Reese won her 250th game as a head coach at Maryland. Eleven games later against No. 7 Virginia, she picked up win No. 261. It was a typical win for the Terps this year, using a balanced offense and suffocating defense to force a running clock for the sixth straight game. It also broke Timchal’s record for most wins by a Maryland women’s lacrosse coach.

So of course, the postgame huddle was different than usual. The team clapped and shouted for their leader, who seemed befuddled. Even with all the commotion, not much changed for Reese. She brought her team together, and told them none of it would’ve happened without the great players surrounding her. The statement embodies Reese, who has succeeded by being a selfless leader who wants her players to get as much out of lacrosse as they can, both on and off the field.

“Not only is she the best coach I’ve ever had, she’s truly such a mom figure in all of our lives and teaches us how to handle life, not just lacrosse,” redshirt junior defender Meghan Doherty said. “She gives us so more than the aspects of lacrosse, it’s about being a better person, enjoying the little things in life ... she deserves nothing but the best.”