According to Aurora Cordingley, the move from playing lacrosse at Johns Hopkins to becoming the leading scorer at the University of Maryland couldn’t have been much smoother.
“It’s definitely about all my teammates,” said the grad transfer out of Oakville, Ontario. “They’ve made it so easy for me, right from the beginning. Everything, I owe to them. They created such a warm and welcoming environment.”
Well, accordingly, that works both ways, Aurora.
With the 5-foot-4 attacker coming up big and leading the Terrapins in points per game (6.13), goals (3.5) and assists (2.43), third-ranked Maryland rang up a 15-1 record, 6-0 in the Big Ten, and enters this weekend’s Big Ten tournament as the top seed.
The Terrapins, winners of seven consecutive games, will play, ahem, Johns Hopkins May 6 at 5:30 in Piscataway, N.J. Third-seeded and host Rutgers plays No. 2 Northwestern immediately following. The conference championship is slated for May 8 at 8 p.m., also at Rutgers, and could mean another clash of titans with fourth-ranked Northwestern.
Like old times, the Terrapins could be primed for a run in the NCAA Tournament, too, thanks to a great mix of experience and some young talent coming into its own at an opportune time. The committed Cordingley is the conduit to a lot of good things happening.
“I think she is one of the best attackers in the nation,” Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said. “She has earned that by her productivity, but when she came into our offense, her leadership, her knowledge, her confidence and ability to see the field has just been crucial to our development this season. She’s not only a great shooter but also a good feeder who understands the game. Having that level of experience with the kids coming off a COVID shutdown year (and a limited schedule in 2021) has just been crucial.”
Cordingley is fourth nationally in points per game, and seventh in assists, leading the Big Ten in both categories. Her goals-per-game mark is 22nd in the nation and second in the conference. She has led Maryland in scoring in 11 contests, each time leading to a Terp victory.
“She has brought a lot of leadership and she has helped us grow as players,” explained Eloise Clevenger, a sophomore attacker from Woodstock, Md. “She’s very composed and controlled. She opens up a lot of different plays for other people.”
Take the big 15-9 victory against then-second-ranked Northwestern April 23, for instance, which put Maryland in position to win the outright regular-season title. The Wildcats face-guarded Cordingley and denied her, something that Hopkins did earlier in the month, too, in a 17-6 Maryland victory.
Concentrate on Cordingley at your own peril, Maryland foes. Increasingly, those younger scorers have stepped up with the veterans facilitating the offense as decoys or by making key passes.
“We had 11 assisted goals out of 15 and everyone was trusting each other,” Reese said of the Northwestern win. “We’re playing well together. [Senior midfielder Grace (Griffin] and Aurora bring that calmness, that leadership and composure. Aurora was face-guarded but was still active in getting her teammates involved.”
“Little Things” Equal Big Results
Reese keeps things simple for her players, breaking the game down into the basics. As the games and the stakes get bigger, her emphasis gets even smaller.
While it seems like a long time since Maryland last hoisted the hardware at the national championship, it was really just two seasons ago in 2019. The 2020 season was wiped away by COVID. Maryland finished 3-3 with a young team.
The Terps were still a work in progress last year, and the 10-7 record against almost exclusively Big Ten foes (again thanks to COVID) didn’t do the team any favors. Fall schedules were scratched, players were regularly tested, spring schedules reshuffled and there just wasn’t that feel of any normalcy for student-athletes or for anyone. Maryland’s streak of 11 consecutive Final Four appearances ended.
“Last year we played the same teams two or three times and that’s different than playing 15 teams a season,” Reese said. “You’re trying to learn how to compete against zones and face-guards and man-to-man offenses and teams that force this way or that way. You can only learn that through experience. You have to get out there and put the pieces together.”
Putting those pieces together has made Reese’s teams national champs in four of the last seven full seasons. Perhaps it seems so long since trophy time because Maryland making a march in the NCAA Tournament is as much a rite of spring around here as cherry blossoms.
Before heading out to practice recently, Reese explained her philosophy to a group of reporters. “Let’s be great at the little things. We’re focused on everything. Going out today, we’re focused on draws, on one-on-one defense, on settled offense, on man-up offense. It’s the fundamentals. Let’s be great at everything, the details of our sport.”
“We’re just focused on getting better,” echoed Griffin, a fifth-year senior from Sykesville, Md. “We can do better. We’re not done yet.”
Cordingley, like her new happy-go-lucky-but-locked-in teammates, was all in from the get-go. It was maybe a little thing that brought her to Maryland in the first place.
Cordingley finished her degree in international studies at Johns Hopkins last spring, and still had eligibility and a bent toward business, a major Hopkins didn’t really offer. The University of Maryland was a perfect academic fit as Cordingley entered the transfer portal.
Oh yeah, and then there was the lacrosse thing.
“Seeing Cathy Reese’s name in my inbox saying that she wanted me to play for her was an incredible feeling,” Cordingley said. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to get that email. She has created such a dynasty here with amazing people, so I just knew Maryland was a place I needed to spend my last year of lacrosse.”
Getting Down To Business
Cordingley had done pretty well so far in the college game, finishing ninth in Hopkins history with 182 career points (116 goals and 66 assists). She earned IWLCA All-America and first-team All-Big Ten honors last year. She was also an honorable mention All-America pick by Inside Lacrosse and USA Lacrosse Magazine.
She moved to Maryland as a graduate student in business and management, and in business terms, it’s just about supply and demand. Cordingley supplied the Terps the veteran offensive piece they needed by demanding so much attention from opposing defenses.
“I played against [the Terrapins] for four years and was really familiar with their style of play,” she said. “They play a very simple, clean style of lacrosse, extremely disciplined. Cathy’s record speaks for itself. She knows how to empower her players and get them to thrive on and off the field.”
Cordingley also knew that her fellow attackers — Clevenger; Libby May, who had seven goals against Northwestern, and Hannah Leubecker — were all sophomores in eligibility and there was a place for her in what could be a potent attack.
“They’re all young but they don’t play like it,” Cordingley said. “They’re really great players and we bounce ideas off each other and they really help me. They make my life easier. They catch my bad passes all the time.”
With 33 assists so far, almost twice as many as any other Terp, those passes certainly aren’t too bad, and definitely make Cordingley’s father, Canadian lacrosse coach Troy Cordingley, proud. Her mother, Darlah, played college basketball in Canada, too. Troy still coaches junior lacrosse and had a box lacrosse stick in Aurora’s hand when she was 2 years old. Her brother, Bryce, plays at Newberry (S.C.) College. She also has two younger siblings, a twin brother and sister, who play in high school.
The Canadian lacrosse tradition runs strong in Cordingley, like many from north of the border, starting in box lacrosse play and moving to the field. One tradition she has firmly held onto is the wearing of No. 45 in honor of Jamieson Kuhlman, a Hill Academy alum where Cordingley also attended, who died on the field during a 2008 club game.
“He was always described as someone who was the hardest-working player, always wanted one more rep, always wanted to get better and motivate his teammates,” Cordingley said. “He wanted to bring out the best in others. We honored him every day at the school and before our practices.
“At the end of every week someone was awarded the ’45’ jersey to recognize him and his legacy. A lot of players in college lacrosse from Hill Academy wear that number today. It’s really cool to see. I love to wear his number. It reminds me the game is so much bigger than myself.”
As Cordingley well knows, it’s the little things.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics