July 10, 2007
In 16 years at the helm of Maryland's women's lacrosse program, Cindy Timchal lost just 45 games.
To say Timchal doesn't like to lose is an understatement. She guided the Terps to eight national titles (including an unprecedented seven straight) and four undefeated seasons (1885, '96, '99, 2001).
But the record-setting coach -- Timchal has amassed 336 Division I wins, 77 more than Princeton's Chris Sailer -- likes a challenge even more than she dislikes losing. What else could have inspired her to leave the top spot at the lacrosse powerhouse to build a new program at the Naval Academy?
"I always try to get through to my players that it's not necessarily about beating the other team, but striving to show how good you can be," Timchal said, explaining her coaching philosophy and in many ways, also her approach to her career. "You have to keep doing things that are new and different, and get your players to buy in."
From the outside, Timchal's move to Navy makes little sense. Why would you give up coaching at a school that has shown a real commitment to women's athletics, as well as a team that boasts numerous All-Americans? But in talking with Timchal, it's clear that she demands the same excellence from herself that she does from her players. And after spending her career at two major universities, the Mids offer a unique opportunity: to put her mark on a program. Although Timchal was wildly successful at Maryland the Terps had won two national championship and boasted a 201-69-3 (.736) record before her arrival. Timchal played a key role in the Terps dynasty, but the program wasn't all her own.
Navy, on the other hand, has long had a successful men's team but has competed at the club level on the women's side. Located in the hotbed of lacrosse, and now with the game's most successful coach calling the shots, many are expecting big things from the women in navy and gold. And while Navy's tough academic standards may have scared off other coaches, Timchal sees only opportunities.
"Most lacrosse players are good students because they realize there are few opportunities to play after college," she explained. "We're focused on finding the right student-athletes for this program. We have a lot of fine athletes here, and we have a chance to be in the hunt in a few years."
Since her first days in coaching at Northwestern University, Timchal's focus has always been on the experience. While she has undoubtedly been successful on the field, her greatest accomplishment has been developing her players off of it.
"Winning championships is really a byproduct of getting the players to believe in themselves, getting them to put it all on the line and play unselfishly," Tinchal said. "And when it all comes together, it's magical.
Winning championships is really a byproduct of getting the players to believe in themselves, getting them to put it all on the line and play unselfishly. And when it all comes together, it's magical.
"Too much credit is given to the coach. My job is just to give the players the courage and the confidence to compete. That's what is most satisfying: giving the players the tools they need to go out and compete."
That dedication to her players has inspired many of them to follow her into coaching. Kelly Amonte Hiller, a 1996 Maryland graduate who revived Northwestern's lacrosse program in 2000, has won the past three NCAA championships. Former players and assistant coaches Cathy Reese and Jen Adams are trying to recreate Timchal's success at Maryland. Her coaching tree even extends outside of lacrosse and into field hockey, a sport in which former player Jennifer Averill has built Wake Forest into a national champion (2002, '03, '04) and perennial tournament contender.
Listening to Timchal's former players, it's no surprise that they still sound very much like their coach:
"Of course, our style of play is similar to those Maryland teams," Amonte Hiller said prior to the 2007 season. "It's where I came from, it's where most of my staff came from. [The teams] share some similar characteristics. But I wouldn't want to compare myself to Cindy. She had a tremendous run. [That's where] I learned what it takes to take the game to the next level."
"Jen [Adams, associate head coach] and I loved our experience as players at Maryland, and we're dedicated to giving our players that same atmosphere," Reese said. "We want them to have fun and be proud to represent their school and their program."
Timchal's numbers are staggering: five time ACC Coach of the Year; two time national Coach of the Year; eight national championships; a 309-74 (.807) career record; has coached 70 All-Americans; and has guided her teams to the NCAA finals in 11 of the last 17 years.
But as many games and titles as Timchal has won in her 25 years in coaching, her legacy is her players.
Lauren Reynolds is the editor of ESPNU.com. She can be reached at Lauren.K.Reynolds@espn3.com.