The first college lacrosse game Navy's Cindy Timchal ever coached didn't turn out the way most of them have since. She lost.
On spring break 1982, she took her Northwestern team to Florida for the first game in the program's history. The Wildcats lost 9-8 to powerhouse Trenton State. The next day, they beat Dartmouth, 12-11.
With that victory, Timchal began a journey to the pinnacle of her sport. Best known for winning seven straight national championships at Maryland, she has won more games than any other coach in the history of college lacrosse – men's or women's. Today, she could become the first to reach 400 career victories.
"I guess it's just a part of the process of being quite fortunate to be at highly-successful lacrosse programs," Timchal said. "I still attribute it to the players who put it on the line every day. I'm very grateful for the opportunity I've had and for being not only a part of such highly-successful lacrosse programs but being at colleges and universities that support women's lacrosse."
Heading into this afternoon's game against Robert Morris at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Timchal's record over 30 years is 399-106. She's won eight national championships and had four undefeated seasons, all during 16 years at Maryland. Twice, she's been national coach of the year.
"I think the most impressive thing about Cindy is her passion for the game," said former Terrapin Kelly Amonte Hiller, a four-time All-American who now coaches at Northwestern.
"I saw the passion she brought to the game when I was being coached by her, but just to see her now, she has so much passion for the game and so much excitement for it. She still is behind the scenes trying to help our sport grow in ways that are so important. I think she's been such a great ambassador for our game. I'm so grateful to have been influenced by her."
Despite hailing from lacrosse-rich Haverford, Pa., Timchal never played the game in high school. A basketball and tennis player who also ran track, she picked up lacrosse at West Chester University and fell in love with it.
She coached two years of high school lacrosse and spent a year as an assistant at Penn before heading to Chicago to start the Northwestern program. After nine years, Timchal moved on to Maryland, a much higher-profile program that wasn't so isolated from the lacrosse world.
"I left to go to Maryland to have a chance to win a national championship," Timchal said. "As good as I thought we could have been at Northwestern, we didn't have any scholarships."
In her second season in College Park in 1992, Timchal and the Terrapins won that national championship. After 16 years and 260 wins at Maryland, she moved on to a new challenge in late 2006, starting the program at the Naval Academy.
Over the years, Timchal, 57, has been an innovator, perhaps the most influential women's lacrosse coach ever. She was the first to use a sports psychologist and she brought men's lacrosse superstar Gary Gait and his unmatched stick skills to College Park. Those influences in many ways made women's lacrosse the game it is today.
"She's had tremendous influence in terms of how she orchestrated that Maryland program," Princeton coach Chris Sailer said. "I feel like when she was there, they really changed the game in terms of stickwork, the passing, the creativity. All that was under her watch and the players she has coached have now gone on and are running their own programs, winning national championships, playing in final fours. That's another great example of her influence on the game, the kids that she's mentored who've now taken over and are leading the game in lots of different ways."
Through an unparalleled coaching tree that includes 20 head or assistant coaches in the college game , Timchal's influence has been far reaching. Her proteges have coached the last seven Division I national champions – six by Amonte Hiller at Northwestern and one by Cathy Reese at Maryland. The three of them have won 14 of the last 17 national titles.
Loyola coach Jen Adams, a three-time national player of the year who won the first Tewaaraton Award at Maryland in 2001, is still widely considered the best ever to play the women's game. What she learned from Timchal as a player and as an assistant coach has made an indelible mark on her coaching philosophy.
"The big thing is the freedom," Adams said. "You've got to be able to teach your players the skills and the basics of the game, but one of the big things I learned from Cindy was once the game goes on not to micromanage, to give your players the ability to handle the game so they don't have to look to the sidelines every 10 seconds. That opens up a lot of freedom of playing and creativity. With that, she and Gary, I think, revolutionized the game at the NCAA level."
Another former Terp, Duke coach Kerstin Kimel, agreed that Timchal continues to be a trailblazer. A constant advocate for the sport and the women who play it, Timchal advocates for such things as better venues and more televised games.
"As someone who has been around a long time, she's still willing to stand up in our (coaches') meetings and ask hard questions and challenge the status quo," Kimel said.
"The core of her values is to never be satisfied, to push the limits. Some things happened at Maryland, because she pushed the envelope. As her so-called coaching offspring, we don't do it in the same way, but we do it -- in our own way."
Since guiding Navy through its Division I debut in 2008, Timchal has coached the Midshipmen to a 63-20 record and two Patriot League titles. She has had just one losing season in her career, her last at Northwestern 22 years ago.