Small in stature but im­mense in goal, Tay­lor keeps a steady tune for Terps

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY RO­MAN STUBBS ro­man.stubbs@wash­post.com

Mary­land sopho­more Me­gan Tay­lor ap­pears to be the least in­tim­i­dat­ing goalie in Divi­sion I women’s lacrosse. Stand­ing 5 feet 3 in her cleats, she is not only the small­est player on the Ter­rap­ins’ ros­ter, she also doesn’t use much strat­egy to com­pen­sate for her lack of height. Most goalies will make them­selves as large as pos­si­ble to take away an­gles in the net; Tay­lor just kind of wings it.

Other goalies might smear eye black all over their face to re­sem­ble war paint, clank the posts with their stick to pump them­selves up, scream di­rec­tives at team­mates. Tay­lor is at her best when she sings play­ful songs dur­ing the game. Her fa­vorite is Phar­rell Wil­liams’s “Happy.”

She doesn’t play well when she grips her stick too tight. As Tay­lor turned in one of the best per­for­mances of her ca­reer in last Sun­day’s Big Ten cham­pi­onship win over North­west­ern, al­low­ing just six goals and reg­is­ter­ing 16 saves to help No. 1 Mary­land lock up the top over­all seed in the NCAA tour­na­ment, she looked as if she had found her happy place.

“I tap my foot. I do a lit­tle wad­dle. I don’t pull out a dance. I just like to be loose. It’s funny, be­cause I’m not in­tim­i­dat­ing, I don’t think,” said Tay­lor, who will be­gin her se­cond NCAA tour­na­ment on Sun­day when the Ter­rap­ins host High Point (16-3). “A big thing with me is, if I don’t make a save or if I do make a save, the big­gest save is go­ing to be the next save. No mat­ter what hap­pens, the next save is your big­gest save . . . . I don’t ever get worked up if a goal goes in.”

Mary­land (19-0) is once again the fa­vorite to win its 14th na­tional cham­pi­onship this month, and the con­tin­ued de­vel­op­ment of Tay­lor is a ma­jor rea­son. She re­peated as Big Ten goalie of the year this month and en­ters the NCAA tour­na­ment with a .549 save per­cent­age, which ranks se­cond na­tion­ally. She is also 15th in the coun­try with a 9.18 goals against av­er­age and is reg­is­ter­ing 10.0 saves per game.

None of that pro­duc­tion is nec­es­sar­ily sur­pris­ing to Tay­lor or her team­mates, but to those out­side the pro­gram, it’s hard to imag­ine such a free spirit dom­i­nat­ing a po­si­tion that is of­ten times re­served for in­tense per­son­al­i­ties.

“She’s not in­tim­i­dat­ing at all. She’s the most up­beat, bub­bly. She laughs at ev­ery­thing. You could hit her, and she’ll just laugh about it,” said de­fender Na­dine Had­nagy, who along with fel­low se­nior Zoe Stuken­berg is a fi­nal­ist for the Te­waara­ton Award given to the na­tion’s top player. “She’s al­ways up­lift­ing. Her en­ergy def­i­nitely flows through our en­tire de­fense.”

Tay­lor has been a cor­ner­stone of Mary­land’s start­ing lineup since she ar­rived on cam­pus in the fall of 2015 af­ter a dec­o­rated ca­reer at Glenelg High in Howard County, where her pas­sion for goal­keep­ing was first forged with her older brother, Alex, who pelted her with ten­nis balls in the back­yard of their home.

He would de­velop him­self into a start­ing goalie at Divi­sion III pow­er­house Sal­is­bury, but he never stopped work­ing with Me­gan. Alex, 25, lives in Ar­ling­ton and com­mutes at least once a week to work with Me­gan. That in­cluded be­fore last weekend’s Big Ten tour­na­ment. But af­ter watch­ing his sis­ter strug­gle in a 19-16 semi­fi­nal win over Johns Hop­kins, he didn’t need to say much to her in the form of en­cour­age­ment be­fore the cham­pi­onship game against North­west­ern.

“Just the way she keeps her calm dur­ing the game, it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity than what all other goalies have,” Alex Tay­lor said of his younger sis­ter. “She’s com­pletely fo­cused through­out the game. But to be able to be com­pletely fo­cused and have that per­son­al­ity where ev­ery­one just wants to grav­i­tate around her and be her friend, that’s a rare breed.”

Me­gan Tay­lor has started all but one game over the past two sea­sons. She has lost just once in those 41 starts: a crush­ing 13-7 set­back against North Carolina in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game last May. Mary­land’s de­fense wasn’t ex­pected to be as pro­duc­tive as it has been this sea­son; the back line lost three starters, in­clud­ing two U.S. na­tional team mem­bers, and has been a work in progress. The unit mobbed Tay­lor af­ter her mas­ter­piece last Sun­day against North­west­ern, where she fin­ished with a .727 save per­cent­age. It was a re­silient per­for­mance given what had hap­pened two nights ear­lier, but Tay­lor didn’t need to al­ter her style.

“I just play,” Tay­lor said. “I just go out there, and I don’t think too much about it.”

PHIL FABRIZIO FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Sopho­more goalie Me­gan Tay­lor, all of 5 feet 3, sports a 40-1 record in her two sea­sons in Col­lege Park.

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