The scar runs along the outside of Joe Cummings‘ right hand, a souvenir from both the most trying and most gratifying stretch of his college career.
The Maryland midfielder suffered a broken hand after absorbing a slash from Duke’s Chris Hipps in the ACC title game April 24. Less than a month later, he was on the field as the Terrapins outlasted Syracuse 6-5 in overtime to secure their first final four trip since 2006.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s been four weeks since the injury occurred, because it’s been a long road,” Cummings said this week. “It’s been a process. It’s required me to be very patient. I’ve definitely been humbled by this whole experience. It’s definitely something I can take a lot from, and I’m actually thankful for what I’ve gone through because of what I’ve learned.”
It wasn’t a smooth path, which in some ways reflected the ups and downs unseeded Maryland (12-4) faced en route to another date with Duke (14-5) in Saturday’s NCAA semifinals in Baltimore.
Cummings was in the midst of a breakout season - during which he earned all-ACC honors and was tied for the team lead in regular-season goals (24) - when the Terps rolled into the conference tournament.
Maryland walked away with victories over North Carolina and Duke and its postseason spot all but assured. But Cummings was nursing an injury as the Terps bused home from Durham, N.C.
Coach John Tillman figured Cummings, a lefty, would play again this season. He just didn’t know when. Then Cummings underwent surgery April 30, exactly two weeks before the start of the NCAA tournament.
“I knew was going to play,” Cummings said. “I was going to play, regardless. I was going to be in there.”
First came the regular-season finale against Colgate, the first DNP of the junior’s career. Cummings chafed at being sidelined but ultimately knew it was prudent to restrain himself.
But the next week? Teammates figured all along he would be back.
“Just the type of person he is, if they told him you can play but you might not be able to ever hold a pencil in your hand again, he’d be like ‘OK, just put a cast on me and I’ll play,’ ” senior midfielder Dan Burns said. “We knew he was hurt, but the type of guy he is, we really never had a doubt he’d come back.”
Sure enough, Cummings and attackman Grant Catalino (who also suffered a hand injury) were back for a May 15 drubbing of North Carolina. Cummings scored a goal against the Tar Heels but did not register a point against Syracuse.
No matter. As was the case the past two years, Cummings‘ value to the Terps is pinned largely on facilitating the offense and amplifying the skills of the other five offensive players. In Sunday’s game, he was quiet but also occupied Syracuse long pole Joel White on the outside during many of his shifts.
“His presence, his decision-making, his ability to play offense and defense, his leadership - those two guys mean so much to us in terms of directing traffic and keeping everyone together,” Tillman said.
The Terps kept Cummings involved as he rushed back from surgery this month. It in turn provided a memory that might last longer than recollections of an operation that seems so distant yet occurred less than four weeks ago.
“You really learn to rely on other people,” Cummings said. “I like being very independent, so going through something like that and having to lean on my roommates and parents, I really needed them and it showed me how many people are there for me.”