'Defender U' More Than a Hashtag in College Park

Marge Donovan attended Maryland games as a teenager. It was a 40-minute drive from her home in Catonsville to College Park. A player for the legendary McDonogh program, Donovan got injured during her sophomore year in high school, once a pivotal season for recruits. She did alright for herself anyway, starring at Princeton, where she got an Ivy League degree and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2022.

Still, the Taylor Cummings-era Terps remained Donovan’s inspiration.

“I’ll never forget the first time I saw them play in College Park with UNC,” Donovan said. "I went with a couple of high school friends. I was just in awe. As a kid, you dream about that stuff.”

Donovan could have walked away from college lacrosse as a league champion after last season. But then that “301” area code appeared on her caller ID. It was Maryland coach Cathy Reese.

“When Cathy at Maryland comes knocking, you’ve got to open that door,” said Donovan, who had a year of eligibility left because the Ivy League canceled the 2021 season due to the pandemic. “It worked out so perfectly, going back home and being part of such an incredible legacy with the Terps. It was a no-brainer.”

About 30 minutes away from Donovan in Hampstead, Kennedy Major, three years younger than Donovan, tells a similar tale. When the lunch bell rang, Kennedy didn’t just break out a sandwich — she grabbed a phone and her friends to watch the Terps.

“We would have lunch at 12, and I’d be like, ‘Guys, do you want to watch the Maryland game?’” said Major, a redshirt freshman. “I would put my lunch aside just to watch. Those were some of my highlights in high school. I would watch these games with my best friends.”

Major went to camps and clinics, where she met Maryland luminaries like Julia Braig, the 2019 IWLCA Defender of the Year who coached her when she played club for Skywalkers. Alice Mercer and Nadine Hadnagy — the 2016 and 2017 IWLCA Defenders of the Year, respectively — taught her how to slide.

“Having them to look up to has helped me so much,” Major said. “I’m really grateful for the legacy of defenders that have come from Maryland.”

For Major, Maryland came calling right away. She visited other Memorial Day Weekend regulars North Carolina and Northwestern, but she found a home close to home, like it’s been for so many defenders before her.

“I’m really grateful for the legacy of defenders that have come from Maryland.”

— Kennedy Major


Maryland likes to call itself Defender U, and it’s lived up to that name over the years. A Terp has been named Big Ten Defender of the Year in each of its seven seasons in the conference. Last year, the honor went to Abby Bosco, who transferred from Penn after a 2021 season in which she played in just one game. Bosco scooped a conference-record 63 ground balls. She was part of a unit that let in 7.81 goals per game, the second-lowest mark in Division I.

Because of the pandemic, Bosco also has one year of eligibility remaining. She’s back in College Park, pairing the reigning Big Ten Defender of the Year with her former rival and reigning Ivy League Defender of the Year.

“At Princeton, we got fired up to play Penn,” Donovan said. “When we played against her and Penn, they always gave us a heck of a game. I was pumped to hear Abby was coming back. I can’t wait to learn from her and share the field with her.”

Donovan also will learn from the mastermind behind Maryland’s defense: Lauri Kenis.

Kenis is elusive — a Wizard of Oz of sorts. She prefers not to do interviews, declining comment even for this article. She prefers the privacy of the film room, where she pores over opponents’ game footage with a fine-tooth comb.

Cathy Reese, Kenis’ boss since 2007, has no problems talking about her defensive coordinator.

“She’s the best at what she does,” Reese said. “She’s just very prepared, very invested and very dedicated. That’s why the players are developing and getting better as they go through.”

Reese knew all about Kenis before she met her. A two-time consensus first-team All-American defender at Virginia, Kenis had previously served as an assistant at Maryland under Reese’s former coach and predecessor, Cindy Timchal. Reese and Kenis coached together in 2006 at Denver, with Kenis staying behind for one season when Reese took the Maryland job. When the Terps’ defensive coordinator position opened, Reese lured her old friend back to College Park, where she’s developed some of the nation’s best defenders year after year.

Kenis’ brag sheet is pages long. At the top of it: She’s mentored eight Tewaaraton winners, seven IWLCA Defenders of the Year and four IWLCA Goalies of the Year. Reese knew she was getting a defensive maestro when she hired Kenis, but even she wasn’t anticipating the level of sustained greatness that’s unfolded.

“You never think, ‘What are we going to build this into over the years?’” Reese said. “We just took it one year at a time. We hired her to come run our defense and do what she does.”

What Kenis does is create a defense that leans into fundamentals, not frills.

“She likes to play a disciplined style of defense,” Reese said. “It’s not flashy. It’s simple, smart and disciplined. It’s team oriented. She wants very athletic, one-on-one defenders that play in a system where the team all has each other’s backs. Different people have come in, but the philosophy has remained constant.”

In lacrosse, zone is often seen as the system that emphasizes team play, whereas 1-v-1 opens the door for standout players. And make no mistake, the Terps have stood out — clearly. But Kenis preaches a philosophy that falls in a gray area between zone and man. 

“We’re not going for checks,” Reese said. “We’re trying to play disciplined but together. Even if we play a 1-v-1 defense, it’s not one person’s job to stop an offense. It’s the team’s job. She believes in discipline and playing together.”

Talk to Kenis’ defenders — from a redshirt freshman in Major to a graduate student and returning star in Bosco — and it’s clear they’ve bought in.

“You work for the person to the left and right of you,” Major said. “That’s the best part of it.”

Bosco anchored the unit in 2022, when the Terps reclaimed the Big Ten title they lost in 2021 and got back to the final four after a rare one-year absence.

“Something we were emphasizing at the end of [last] season is sending help if we had a top matchup on a really good player,” Bosco said. “That came from communication with all seven defenders. Yes, it’s 1-v-1 defense, but you can only play that for so long. Once she’s in the 8, it’s a team effort.”

Abby Bosco was the 2022 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.


Though Kenis’ philosophy has remained the same over the years, she’s evolved. Isolating matchups based on personnel rather than putting the top defender on the opponent’s best attacker is one example.

“Some people may think off the bat, ‘Abby Bosco should be the matchup,’ but not necessarily,” Reese said. “It was the same with Lizzie Colson. There were days where Lizzie Colson didn’t get the matchup because she’s so good at coming up with ground balls, and we needed her to focus on that.”

The shot clock also forced strategy shifts.

“Teams used to hold the ball on us and wouldn’t even shoot,” Reese said. “When the shot clock came into play, offenses were generating more opportunities. We had to be even more prepared to see different sets and people.”

Technology has assisted this evolution. Reese remembers when they had to mail DVDs to opponents. Now, nearly every game is streamed — and you can catch Kenis watching them.

“She probably watches every game,” Reese said. “She doesn’t miss a beat. She’s been someone that has really started to evolve with technology — film, dissecting film, analyzing opponents, analyzing our own film. Each year, she adapts and adjusts how she wants to run things based on personnel.”

This year, that personnel is so good on paper that it begs the question: Can anyone score on Maryland? In addition to Bosco, the Terps return IWLCA Goalie of the Year Emily Sterling and starters Brianna Lamoureux, Aiden Peduzzi and Maddie Sanchez. Major and redshirt junior Clancy Rheude, the 2021 America East Defender of the Year at Albany, also are back from injury.

“Look at these players coming in who are already really good defenders,” Reese said. “Kenis is going to have the opportunity to mold them into a system that she is preparing them for and preparing us to compete with. They have so much potential.”

Potential — and staying power. Though Bosco, Donovan and Peduzzi will graduate this year, Major represents the long-term future.

True to the Terps’ philosophy, however, she does not talk about taking the torch all by herself.

“So many people are going to have the opportunity to step up,” Major said. “All the Maryland defenders have taught us so much. They’ve paved the road, and it’s going to be so cool to see the defense thrive because of it.”


2015 – Megan Douty, Maryland *
2016 – Alice Mercer, Maryland *
2017 – Nadine Hadnagy, Maryland *
2018 – Julia Braig, Maryland
2019 – Julia Braig, Maryland *
2021 – Lizzie Colson, Maryland *
2022 – Abby Bosco, Maryland

* IWLCA National Defender of the Year