Those aren't just big shoes Cathy Nelson Reese is trying to fill at the University of Maryland, they're Shaquille O'Neal-sized 22 gunboats she'll be lacing up at her alma mater.
Having played for Cindy Timchal for four seasons and coached under her for five additional campaigns before replacing the Terp legend in August, Reese must realize that comparisons to Timchal are as inevitable as the godawful early-season weather on the East Coast.
And, of course, there's always the possibility of becoming the obscure answer to a trivia question.
Anybody remember who replaced Casey Stengel? How about Vince Lombardi? John Wooden, anyone?
If you said Ralph Houck, Phil Bengston and Gene Bartow, you seriously need to get out more often. But the point is that following an icon can be an unforgiving and futile exercise.
Yet if anybody is up for that kind of challenge, it's Nelson Reese and her sidekick, associate head coach Jen Adams, a legendary figure in her own right.
Adams is the all-time assists and points leader in women's collegiate lacrosse and a three-time National Player of the Year for the Terps to boot. Moreover, Adams was the driving force behind an upstart Aussie squad that humbled the U.S. in the 2005 World Championships in Annapolis and is considered by most to be the greatest ever.
Reese's playing days in College Park were stellar, as well. Like Adams, she owns four NCAA titles. Reese, who played in the Mount Hebron program that rules schoolgirl lacrosse, was a two-time All-America selection, a member of two undefeated squads and the 1998 NCAA tournament MVP the same year she recorded 58 goals and 25 assists for the Terps.
So far, the Reese-Adams coalition has picked up right where it left off when it combined to lead Denver to its highest ranking ever - not to mention 11 straight wins and a 16-5 record - in 2006.
The 2007 Terps are on fire with a 12-1 record and ranked third nationally with only a blow out loss in Charlottesville as a blemish. Their signature win was a defenseless 19-18 stunner over Duke, which was ranked second at the time. They face #1 Northwestern in an E-Lacrosse covered game next week for a chance to return to the ranking Nelson owned as a Player - #1.
Maybe that shows why Reese never felt extra pressure to get it right, right away in College Park.
"I don't think the expectations are too high," Reese said. "We will work hard to get better each day and grow stronger throughout the season." Nelson has a formula and has proved that it works.
Reese, married to former Terp longstick and current Colorado Outlaw general manager Brian Reese, appears to be comfortable in a coaching situation with a superstar assistant coach, which might make others skittish. When asked about the practical aspects of how the coaches will work the day-to-day business of guiding college athletes through a rigorous season, Reese said "Jen and I share most of the coaching duties and we will both be actively involved in the recruiting."
Reese owes her tremendous knowledge of the game to not only the Mount Hebron program and Timchal but to the incomparable Gary Gait who was the assistant at Maryland during her playing years. Another reason the Nelson-Adams team feels natural to the pair, especially in College Park. "I did learn a lot from both Cindy and Gary," she said. "Both were great coaches and taught me different things. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with both of them and to learn from them. I have taken a lot from my experiences with Cindy and have also incorporated a lot from my experience at Denver into my coaching style and philosophy."
Reese's transition had one down side. Leaving the Mile High City was very difficult.
"The hardest part about leaving Denver was leaving the student athletes," Reese said. "I had a great group of players who meant a lot to me. The decision to come to Maryland, however, meant a lot as well. To have the chance to coach at your alma mater is an amazing opportunity. It was a place where I had such a memorable college experience that I would love to pass that onto this group of student athletes."
Nelson dispels any notion that when Navy begins Division-I play in 2008, Reese and Timchal will be at each other's throats.
"I do not see an immediate rivalry brewing," Reese said, downplaying the possibility of yet another date to be circled on a Terps' calendar that already has gut-check games with Virginia, Duke, Princeton - and more recently - Johns Hopkins on it. "Cindy is a great person who did wonderful things for the Maryland program. I wish her all the best at Navy."
April 12, 2007
Some Photos courtesy University of Maryland
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