With trademark speed, Maryland lacrosse's Megan Whittle closes in on breaking idol's goal-scoring record
Whenever Megan Whittle poses for a picture and chats with a young Maryland women's lacrosse fan, she remembers what it felt like to be on the other side of that conversation.
Whittle recalls every detail of interacting with her lacrosse idol at a Maximum Exposure lacrosse camp in College Park seven or eight years ago.
"Jen Adams was on the sideline and she called me over and said, 'Do a behind-the-back,' and she did that motion with her stick," Whittle said. "I almost cried because, one, she knew my name -- the coolest thing ever -- and, two, she knew I liked to do behind-the-backs. She had been watching me, and that was so cool. She is still my idol. She is still the reason why I wanted to get better every day and why I wanted to play lacrosse and come to Maryland."
Whittle has emulated her idol so well that she stands on the brink of breaking Adams' career goals record. After Tuesday's win at Princeton, she tied Adams' program record of 267 that has stood since 2001.
"I think it'll be one of the coolest things to accomplish in my career. Having my name even in the same sentence as Jen Adams is still amazing to me, because I think about when I was 8 years old having my picture taken with her," said Whittle, adding that the picture still hangs on the wall of her College Park apartment.
If and when the senior attacker passes Adams, Whittle would rank fourth on the Division I all-time goal-scoring list. She likely won't get past Stony Brook's Courtney Murphy, who broke the record this season and now has 296 career goals. But with up to 10 games left, Whittle could move ahead of Temple's Gail Cummings (289, set in 1988) and Penn State's Marsha Florio (271, set in 1985).
Since the day Whittle arrived in College Park, the record has been in jeopardy.
Once called "an automatic goal" by her high school coach, Chris Robinson, Whittle leads the No. 3 Terps (12-1) in scoring for the fourth straight year. She has 50 goals just a little past the season's midpoint.
"Someone that's that explosive and that fast is hard to defend," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. "When she's going that speed all the time, I'm glad I don't have to find a way to stop her. She sets her mind to something and it's like, 'Lets go,' and she really goes after it."
Known for one of the quickest first steps and one of the hardest shots in the game, Whittle has scored 28 goals, more goals and more shots from 8 meters than any other player in the country has.
"She really capitalizes on every opportunity she has," James Madison coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said, "but she also creates a lot of them with her speed and power, and so when players try to match her intensity and foul her, she capitalizes with her rocket shot. That's where I think her game really is on another level, just her consistency on 8 meters. She makes you pay for any foul that you give her."
Whittle started playing lacrosse at 5. She followed her older brother Shane onto the field, and it didn't take her long to realize that the sport was a perfect fit for her explosive speed and nose for goal.
She tried a variety of sports -- T-ball, soccer, field hockey, basketball, swimming, track -- but lacrosse was her favorite. Because of her speed, she played midfield as a youngster, but in the M&D Lacrosse Club and at McDonogh High School in Maryland, she excelled on attack.
"I love the way the offense works," Whittle said. "I love the way the ball moves and how we work for each other as a unit. I love the individuality of it, too. I think over the years, the game has come naturally to me, but I've learned so much playing on these high-intensity teams with not a lot of losses. I think my lacrosse IQ has gone up so high. I just understand the game and how the ball moves."
At McDonogh, Whittle never lost a game. She helped contribute 80 wins to what is now a 186-game winning streak. In one of the Eagles' closest calls during the streak, she scored the winner in a 13-12 victory over current Terps teammate Caroline Steele's Severn High School squad. With 1:18 left, she rolled the crease with most of the Admirals defenders chasing her and found an open low corner to boost the streak to 111 her senior year.
Steele recalls defending her once in high school, and said Whittle blew right by her.
"She's just so fast, people have a tough time defending her, so they do foul her all the time," Steele said. "You might see her have five goals from 8 meters because she'll beat her girl and they'll just whack at her or something crazy like that. Her ability to just get around her defender with that quick step and finish is wild. She's definitely a one-of-a-kind player."
The All-Metro Player of the Year as a senior at McDonogh in 2014, Whittle had all the tools to step into the only open spot in Maryland's lineup her freshman year. Even though she said she played "with all the All-Americans in the world" that season, she led the Terps in scoring with 67 goals. She scored three in the 2015 national championship, including two that helped turn a three-goal second-half deficit into a 9-8 victory over North Carolina.
Since then, Whittle has sharpened her game any way she could. After being cut twice during tryouts for the U.S. national team, she turned to England, where her mother was born, and played on the country's bronze-medal-winning World Cup team last summer.
She plays with an edgy attitude, knowing a lot of opponents can't stop her without fouling.
"I think that's just the confidence that I've grown into over my four years at Maryland," Whittle said. "When I step on the field, I'm just a very competitive person. I do think I have a competitive edge. ... I've become a lot more comfortable with who I am, just knowing that I can control what I can control. I get a lot of defensive attention, and people will try to find ways to get inside your head or knock you off your game a little bit, but that's what you get at Maryland, so you have to be able to handle that pressure and be confident."
Whittle will spend this summer touring again with England's national team. She is considering a coaching career, but said she's not thinking that far ahead right now.
Sometimes, however, she thinks back to that little girl in the photo with Adams. As her Terps career winds down, she'd love to make a similar impression on a young fan.
"I was that girl at one time, that young kid so excited to see the players play," Whittle said. "And one of those girls who was in the stands at our James Madison game [on March 24], she's going to take my spot one day. And that's what's cool about the Maryland tradition, about how we embrace our fans. I always think about how I could say one 'Go, Terps' or one 'Hi, how are you?' and that could be the thing they remember for the rest of their lives."
This article is written by Katherine Dunn from The Baltimore Sun and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.