How has America changed Jen Adams? Like, quite a bit, mate. Sitting in a coffeehouse across from the Maryland campus, a caffe latte in front of her, Adams, the nation's best female lacrosse player, is explaining how the Americanization of an Australian athlete can have its drawbacks. "The word like has popped into my vocabulary, and it has become overused," says Adams, a senior at Maryland. "I'll be on the phone and my mom's like, 'I'm going to hang up if you say that word one more time.' It's like horrible." She pauses. "Like horrible. There you go. I don't know where it comes from."
Where Adams comes from is South Australia, specifically Brighton, a suburb of Adelaide. Her mates back home call her Rowdy, a slyly ironic reference to her quiet nature, though Adams is anything but quiet on the lacrosse field. With 71 goals and 44 assists this season, she needs only two points to become the NCAA's alltime scoring leader. The two-time All-America midfielder has had at least one point in 74 consecutive games, a streak dating back to March 31, 1998. "She reminds me of Wayne Gretzky," says coach Cindy Timchal, who hopes to guide the No. 1-ranked Terps to their seventh consecutive NCAA title later this month. "Here's this ordinary-looking hockey player. Then he gets on the ice, and it's magic. Jen looks like an ordinary athlete. Then she gets on the field, and extraordinary things happen."
Adams is neither particularly big (5'7") nor especially fast, but her fertile mind and slick stickwork separate her from the pack. Unlike most U.S.-born players, she carries her stick loosely, which gives defenders the false impression that they can check it with ease. When they fail, as they inevitably do, she flashes past them, finding either an open teammate or the back of the net. From over-the-opposite-shoulder shots to behind-the-back scores to darts between a goalie's legs, Adams scores goals with the flourish of a three-card monte dealer.
Much of the credit for her success, Adams says, should go to assistant coach Gary Gait, half of the famous Golden Gait brothers, who a decade ago at Syracuse turned men's college lacrosse into a highflying circus. "She has so many moves and shots that you can't just do one thing to stop her," says Gait.
Adams began developing that skill at age eight, when she signed up for Brighton's inaugural junior women's lacrosse program. By 14 she was starting on Australia's world champion under-19 team. Prodded by her older sister, Trisha, who played one year at Maryland before homesickness kicked in, Jen arrived in College Park in the winter of 1998. While she will graduate from Maryland holding nearly every school lacrosse scoring record, she has never felt comfortable being the poster girl for the program. Ask Adams about her Gretzkyesque dominance, and she fidgets in her chair. "I consider myself highly overrated," she says. "Often people see I scored such and such goals, but if you were at that game, you saw that [All-America midfielder] Quinn Carney stripped 20 people of the ball and created every chance."
"Clearly she's our best player and gets the bulk of the press," says teammate and fellow Aussie Courtney Hobbs, "but anytime she's asked questions about herself, she gives it up for her teammates. There's an honorable and modest quality to her."
Hobbs doesn't blink when asked why that's so. "Easy," she says with a grin. "It's the Australian in her."