Little girls used to bother Kelsey Cummings with a simple question.
They weren’t asking which goal to shoot on at lacrosse camp, if they could take another water break or even for instruction to a basic move. They just wanted to know if her last name meant what they thought.
‘Oh my god are you Taylor Cummings’ little sister,’ the younger Cummings recalls being asked, imitating the star-struck voice of a child. The standard “Yes, I am,” would follow, with Kelsey’s impersonation of her answer even carrying a tone of exhaustion.
Taylor is a rising senior at Maryland and a back-to-back winner of the Tewaaraton Award, the highest individual honor in women’s college lacrosse. Kelsey will be a freshman with the Terrapins, tasked with making her own name from scratch.
After having three years to herself in the powerhouse McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.) girl’s lacrosse program, Kelsey will be back to sharing a spotlight with an older sister whose shadow was once intimidating.
Before she officially becomes a Terrapin, Kelsey will play one last high school game as a member of the South team in the Under Armour All-American game Friday in Towson, Md. The girls game is at 5:30 p.m. ET with the boys game to follow.
The showcase will provide Kelsey with a platform to show her first name can carry more weight than her last. By no means does the pressure create tension – Maryland coach Cathy Reese says the sisters are “greatest of friends” – but it’s something that has and will continue to drive Kelsey to shed what some use to define her.
“I think it was tough on her (in the past) and I think it has been kind of tough on her,” Taylor said. “At the same time, she’s committed to Maryland, she’s done so well for herself and she excels in a bunch of different areas that I don’t, that I think she’s not Taylor Cummings’ little sister.”
Growing up, Kelsey didn’t even like lacrosse. She had height, now standing at almost 6 foot tall, and initially gravitated toward basketball with a bit of field hockey sprinkled in.
Taylor picked up the game at age 7 and Kelsey even later, so Kelsey hesitantly watched her older sister play for several years before convincing herself she was picking up a stick for the right reason.
“I think that mainly had to do with how good she was and I didn’t want to be compared to her,” Kelsey said of holding off from the game. “But after a while I was like, ‘All right, I like the sport, I’m getting used to it, I feel like this is a lot of fun.’ It’s not that I followed her, it’s more of I found my own passion within it.”
It wasn’t until late middle school and early high school, though, that Kelsey’s knack for lacrosse gained traction. Still then, the so-called shadow was inescapable.
As a freshman on junior varsity, Kelsey admitted she wasn’t very good. She watched as Taylor helped McDonogh reel off a fourth consecutive IAAM championship and an undefeated record on her way to a second consecutive Lacrosse Magazine National Player of the Year honor.
“Kelsey tried to live up to the expectations of being Taylor’s sister and felt that she had to be basically everything that Taylor was at that time,” their father, Mike Cummings said, “that she needed to do everything the way Taylor did it and to be as good or better than Taylor at being Taylor.”
But when Taylor graduated, heading to Maryland as the No. 1 rising freshman in the country, things changed. Kelsey started getting serious, Mike said, and she became stronger, faster and more skilled through individual workouts and regular appointments with a personal trainer.
She focused on honing the skills of being an attack, and she showed gradual progression in each year of high school as her body began to fill out athletically, her father said.
“I like to think of it as like getting out from under a shadow,” Kelsey said. “I could focus on what I was going to do. I didn’t have to worry about being referred to as Taylor’s little sister.”
Kelsey started coming into her own her sophomore and junior year, Reese noted, a little later than the traditional recruit to a national powerhouse. She helped McDonogh stack up two consecutive undefeated seasons and extend the team’s winning streak to 112 games.
In the IAAM championship as a senior this spring, Cummings assisted on a McDonogh goal with 5.9 seconds left to erase a once-four-goal second-half deficit and claim McDonogh’s seventh consecutive championship. The win capped a 21-0 season, pushed the program’s winning streak to 133 games and clinched the No. 1 ranking in the Super 25.
“We wanted to make sure that we were recruiting Kelsey Cummings for who she was, not because she was Taylor’s sister, but because she was a player that was really going to come in and help us,” Reese said. “I think she’s a stud.”
Now that the sisters will be wearing the same jersey for the first time, the comparisons will be as present as ever. Kelsey knows it. Her father knows it. They’re unavoidable, but able to be quieted in part because of how differently they play.
Taylor, a midfielder, covers end to end, dominates in the draw circle and is disruptive on defense. Kelsey, an attack, excels behind the goal, seeing the field with precision and threading tight passes to cutting teammates. In a way it mirrors their off-the-field demeanor, as their father characterizes Kelsey as “incredibly well-organized” and Taylor as a “slob.”
“I’m not the same,” Kelsey said. “I don’t do the same thing as her and when I get to Maryland, I feel like I’m not going to have to be worrying about the same things as her.”
It alleviates the pressure to an extent, but there’s still going to be a weight on her shoulders. It’s a lighter weight than before, though, as the same question Kelsey’s been answering for five years now gets a laugh and a different answer according to her father, “Yeah, she’s my sister and by the way, she’s a slob and she’s shorter than me.”
As Kelsey headed to her second of many interviews at Thursday’s All-America Press Luncheon, a spokesman joked, “You’re going to be busy today.” Kelsey turned and responded “It’s fine,” with a smile.
She knows what questions she’ll be answering and she knew what she was stepping into when she committed to Maryland. Expectations that she once viewed as a burden she now embraces. And what once defined her now provides a platform to create her own identity.
“She wants to make a name for herself,” Taylor said. “I don’t think she wants to ride the Taylor Cummings train.”