One of the biggest questions heading into the 2007 season was what Maryland would look like in its first season in 16 years without Cindy Timchal at the helm. Although the question won't be fully answered until May, the Terps gave us a sneak preview of what we can expect from the Cathy Nelson Reese era in Saturday's 19-18 upset of then-No. 2 Duke.
The win signaled the end of two lengthy streaks: Duke's 12-game road winning streak, and Maryland's four-game losing streak (dating back to 2003) to its conference rival.
Reese accepted the job at her alma mater, where she spent four years as a player and five as an assistant coach, after Timchal left to start a women's lacrosse program at Navy. To say Reese knows how to win would be an understatement. In her nine years in College Park, Reese won seven national championships (four as a player, three as a coach). She learned at the knee of Timchal, who put Maryland lacrosse on the map, guiding the Terps to eight national championships (seven consecutive).
Reese's support staff also has Maryland roots, which aided the transition from Denver, where she and associate head coach Jen Adams spent the last three years building the Pioneers' program. Adams, arguably one of the sport's greatest players, was a member of four of Maryland's national championship teams, and was named player of the year three times.
"Coming back to Maryland was amazing," said Reese. "[Jen and I] have such strong ties to the school. It was a really easy decision. The only hard part was leaving our athletes at Denver."
Inheriting a program is never easy, but Reese and Adams had a unique advantage: They were finally getting to coach the players they had recruited while assistants at Maryland. The senior class, led by preseason Tewaaraton Trophy candidates Becky Clipp and Katie Doolittle and ACC player of the week Krista Pellizzi, was Reese's last recruiting class. Adams helped recruit the junior class, which includes second-team All-American Kelly Kasper.
"Starting out, it was a lot of work, but we came back to familiar faces and talented athletes," said Reese.
A storied program, two proven coaches and a gaggle of talented athletes already familiar with Reese's up-tempo style -- it seems too good to be true. But the road to the NCAA Tournament isn't paved in gold for Maryland, and the bracket has expanded to nearly triple the size it was in 1995 -- the year Maryland won the first of its titles -- when just six teams were selected to play in the tournament. Good teams abound now, and most of them can be found among the Terps' conference foes.
While Maryland plays an extremely tough schedule -- eight of its next 13 games are against ranked opponents -- the Terps started the season by dominating unranked UMBC and Boston College. Both wins were expected and gave those outside of the program little information about what to expect from the team.
But in defeating a fast, experienced Duke team, Maryland proved it has the attackers to stay in games, even when the Terps give up a great number of goals, and the mental wherewithal to hang in tough, close contests.
"It was a tough game," admitted Reese, whose team owned a one-point lead at the half. "On offense, we were able to finish shots, and we played tough D, even though we gave up some shots. It was an exciting game. Duke is a tough team and even when we led [Maryland had a five-point lead in the first half], we never thought for a second that the game was over."
Although the expectations that come with an undefeated start to the season and a win over the No. 2 team in the country could be overwhelming, Reese and her staff are keeping it simple.
"I'm happy for the kids, especially for the seniors," said Reese. "They've struggled against Duke for the past three years. This game will definitely give them confidence."
The Terps will need all of the confidence they can muster as they head into the heart of their ACC schedule. The league boasts four of the nation's top five or six teams (depending on which poll you look at) and the teams are so close in talent and style of play, the outcome of the games could go either way.
That said, it's a safe bet that Maryland's streak of success will continue. The team is well-balanced -- six seniors, nine juniors, eight sophomores and six freshmen -- and has strong senior leadership in Clipp and Doolittle. The Terps' speed in the midfield will be critical in games against No. 1 North Carolina and defending champion Northwestern.
"We want to play a fast-paced game, with tough defense, good transitions and a dynamic offense. We want to be precise and sharp and move the ball well," Reese said. "But most of all, we want to maintain an intense, positive and creative environment.
"Jen and I loved our experience as players at Maryland, and we're dedicated to giving our players that same atmosphere. We want them to enjoy the game and be creative on the field. We want them to have fun and be proud to represent their school and their program."
Following in a legend's footsteps adds a certain amount of pressure on any coach. But Reese says any pressure on herself or her team comes only from within.
"There are so many great teams. Our goal is to grow and develop as a team. We're not looking past any practices or games. It's not about wins and losses -- it's about being the best we can be," said Reese.
Maryland is very familiar with the road through the ACC to college lacrosse's final weekend. With Reese at the helm, expect the Terps to blaze a whole new trail to Philadelphia.
Lauren Reynolds is the editor of ESPNU.com. She can be reached at Lauren.K.Reynolds@espn3.com.