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May 12, 2016

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — As undergraduates, her mother attended Boston College and her father Duke. Maggie Preas chose another ACC school, the University of Virginia, where she’s become a pillar for the women’s lacrosse team, and not only because of her considerable talent as a defender.

“How she plays is one thing,” head coach Julie Myers said, “but how she holds herself and how she leads by example is what we really benefit from.”

A 5-9 junior from Rockville, Md., Preas was one of three Cavaliers named to the All-ACC second team last month, along with senior midfielder Mary Alati and sophomore attacker Kasey Behr.

The Wahoos’ top defender last season was Morgan Stephens, an exceptional athlete. With Stephens gone, Preas has assumed a more prominent role. She’s not as fast or as strong as Stephens — few college defenders are — but Preas usually draws the quarterback of the opposing offense, and she excels in that role.

“Maggie is the leader, and she’s the eyes and the mouth of the defense,” Myers said. “She’s the organizer, the anchor.”

Preas said: “I like to think I lead by example, and I’m hoping that other people feel that way. But also I like to give directions.”

She smiled. “Not in a bossy way, but like `I’m with you right,” or `I have your help,’ or `You slide.’ I think not just me, but our defense as a unit has been really good at doing that. We’re always communicating with each other, whether it’s [goalkeeper] Rachel [Vander Kolk], who can see the whole defense at once, telling us where to go and what to do, or me talking to Sarah [Gillespie], who talks to Ella [Cooper], who talks to Kaitlin [Luzik], who talks to Wyatt [Whitley] and back and forth.”

Virginia (9-8), which has advanced to the NCAA tournament for the 21st consecutive season, plays Johns Hopkins (10-7) in the first round Friday at 4 p.m. in College Park, Md.

The winner will have the unenviable challenge of facing top-seeded Maryland (19-0) in College Park at noon Sunday.

“But it is what it is,” Myers said. “We’re going to have to obviously play great. We have to get through Friday to be able to worry about Sunday, but we would have no pressure on us [against Maryland].”

Had the `Hoos defeated Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, they would probably be playing at home this weekend. But the Cavaliers fell 9-8 to the Blue Devils, and so they find themselves in a part of the NCAA bracket most teams wanted to avoid.

“It was disappointing,” Preas said of losing to Duke. “But we’re just excited to have the opportunity to play again.”

Storylines abound in this game. Many Cavaliers and Blue Jays know each other from high school and/or club lacrosse. Moroever, Hopkins’ head coach, Janine Tucker, is the mother of former UVA men’s lacrosse standout Ryan Tucker, and her assistants include former Virginia great Steele Stanwick.

“This matchup with Hopkins is exciting,” Myers said. “It’s fresh, because we haven’t played them this year. It’s kind of fun to prep for a new team.”

Preas and Co. will try to slow a Hopkins offense led by Dené DiMartino, who has 42 goals and nine assists this season. Preas relishes such challenges.

As a freshman in 2014, she started six games and helped UVA advance to the Final Four. She became a full-time starter in 2015 but missed seven games with a broken right ankle before returning for the NCAA tournament.

Her right foot has bothered her at times this season, and Preas sometimes wears a protective boot away from the field as a precaution. But she’s started every game, and X-rays show her foot is healing.

“She comes off it when she can,” Myers said, “but she puts everything into any moment she’s on the field. She has not missed a thing.”

At UVA’s all-sports banquet last week at John Paul Jones Arena, Preas received the coaches’ award for excellence. She’s third on the team with 34 draw controls and tied for third with 15 caused turnovers.

“She was a big recruit coming out of high school,” Myers said, “and she’s more than lived up to her name and her expectations.”

Preas graduated from McDonogh School in Owings Mill, Md., about 20 miles northwest of Baltimore, as did two of her UVA teammates: junior attacker Posey Valis and freshman Sophie Alecce.

McDonogh has not lost a varsity girls lacrosse game since 2009, when Preas and Valis were still in middle school. That made their first game at UVA especially memorable. In its 2014 opener, Virginia lost 13-12 to Northwestern in Kennesaw, Ga.

Afterward, Preas recalled, “I looked at Posey, and there were no words. It was just a different feeling.”

Valis and Preas have been close since their McDonogh days. Valis committed to UVA first, which added to the school’s appeal for Preas. A subsequent trip to Charlottesville sealed her decision.

“The school was beautiful, and the girls I met on my visit were awesome,” she said. “I knew when I came on my visit that it felt like home.”

Preas committed to UVA early in her junior year at McDonogh, where she was a boarding student. The Cavaliers’ coaching staff expected Preas to contribute immediately in college, and she hasn’t disappointed.

Equally important, “she’s such a nice kid,” Myers said. “She is a dominant player and a great leader, but she’s a really good friend to everybody too, and sometimes that doesn’t always balance as well as it does with Maggie.”

Preas, whose sister, Caitlin, played lacrosse at Mount St. Mary’s, carries a double major in Spanish and anthropology.

Her parents work in the medical profession, and that could be an option for Preas, too. For now, though, she sees herself working in the classroom, helping others learn and master Spanish.

“I would love to be a teacher,” Preas said.

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