CHESTER, Pa. -- The role of freshman phenom is hardly a foreign concept for Cathy Reese, a coach who routinely recruits high school All-Americans and turns them into instant stars.
The list is endless and remarkable, starting near the very beginning of the Terrapins' record books, reaching into the recent past with reigning Tewaarton Trophy winner Taylor Cummings, and extending into the here and now with Reese's latest star rookie.Not many have enjoyed the first season Megan Whittle did in Maryland's red and yellow. Especially with how perfectly it ended, with the nation's former top recruit front and center as the No. 1 Terrapins rallied past No. 2 North Carolina 9-8 to repeat as NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse National Champions before 8,143 on Sunday night at PPL Park.
This came just two years after Maryland (21-1) succumbed to the Tar Heels (18-4) 13-12 in a triple-overtime, title-game thriller two years ago at nearby Villanova.
"I'm honored to even be sitting here with these guys," Whittle said during the post-game press conference after finishing with a hat trick and an assist. "Playing every day against the best defenders and with the best attackers ... I figured out my place and my teammates trusted me.
"It's a really special thing to be a part of and i couldn't be happier."
Maryland's last loss to UNC in suburban Philadelphia two years ago came during Cummings' rookie year. The 2015 Most Outstanding Player tallied a hat trick and an assist then, a terrific performance despite the final outcome.
Having played with and against each other during their Maryland high school days despite being two years apart, Cummings knew Whittle's game well. She anticipated the same type of performance the rookie provided Sunday night, knowing it could bring her and her teammates another national title.
"Today she stepped up and she didn't play like a fresh; she didn't play like a fresh all year," Cummings said after finishing with five points Sunday and 100 overall. "We're lucky to have her."
A third-team All-American who led the national champions with 67 goals this season, Whittle was especially poised in the second half, helping the Terrapins overcome a 6-3 halftime deficit. She became demonstrative and even a tad emotional after assisting on Cummings' goal with 19:12 left that forged a 6-6 tie, then after hitting the back of the net twice within a 65-second span to stake her team to an 8-6 lead with 15:51 remaining.
"I could feel it," Whittle said. "I think everything was starting to click in the second half at that point."
After such a remarkable rookie debut, Whittle will present game-planning problems for coaches across the country the next three years as the Terrapins hope to continue their dynasty. North Carolina coach Jenny Levy kidded that she wished Whittle was one of Maryland coach Cathy Reese's graduating seniors, but smiled while conceding, "I think she's a great player."
A great player just one season into her college career. And a great player Reese will return along with Cummings and midfielder Zoe Studenberg (60 points) in 2016.
"She's a great player. She's a great scorer, she's a great dodger," Reese said. "For her coming in as a freshman where I returned three first-team All-Americans on offense was really a challenge. and really it was finding her place.
"She does whatever you ask. Her teammates do trust her with the ball. she can dodge, she can score with the ball and I think she learned a lot this year about how to play as part of a team. i think she's going to be a fun player to watch over her career."