'The ultimate competitor': How Duke women’s lacrosse’s Maddie Jenner rose to the pinnacle of her sport

Maddie Jenner broke the NCAA career draw control record in a February rout of Gardner-Webb.
Maddie Jenner broke the NCAA career draw control record in a February rout of Gardner-Webb.

Long live the queen. 

The draw control queen, that is, of Duke women’s lacrosse. Maddie Jenner, the Blue Devils’ single-season and career record holder and the NCAA all-time leader at the draw, is currently utilizing her fifth and final year of collegiate eligibility. In yet another historic season — her 154 draw controls to date move her into the third spot in the program record books, behind only her last two seasons’ totals — the graduate student will close out her final regular season in Koskinen Stadium Thursday afternoon. A Duke athletics great and a women’s lacrosse legend, Jenner’s five years with the Blue Devils will go down in history. 

The Annapolis, Md., native arrived on campus in 2018 with two of her club teammates by her side and her older sister already in the circle. With expectations the size of a top-five recruit and a seasoned veteran to learn from, Jenner evolved from a pure draw specialist as a rookie to an all-around, dynamic attacker as a fifth-year. 

“Maddie’s playing her very best lacrosse right now,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said before the season.

The owner of every Duke draw control record — and most of the NCAA ones, too — Jenner has been a source of consistency and a recent fount of experience. Calm, cool and collected — and fiercely intense.

“Maddie is somebody who, gosh, when she speaks, people really listen to her,” said Kimel. 

“A student of the game,” according to her club and high school coach Scott Robinson. “A sponge,” Kimel said. 

One thing is for certain — she has been a constant. Through COVID-19, playoff pushes and disappointing seasons, Jenner has been right there to take the draw and give her team the best possible chance of winning. 

A family affair

The first women’s lacrosse team in the United States was located in the state of blue crabs and Old Bay, at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore in 1926. Rosabelle Sinclair brought the iteration of the game across the Atlantic from her alma mater of St. Leonard’s School in Scotland — women’s lacrosse’s birthplace. It flourished in the Mid-Atlantic, spreadings its reach up and down the Eastern Seaboard but taking up residence in Maryland, the home of the USA Lacrosse headquarters and Hall of Fame. 

“In Maryland, they say kids are born with a lacrosse stick in their hand,” the state Office of Tourism website reads

It was only logical, then, for the Jenner sisters to pick up sticks of their own as soon as they were able. 

“As a young kid, you're exposed to it fairly early on,” the elder of the two, Olivia Jenner, told The Chronicle. Three years older than her sister, Olivia began playing in rec leagues before trying out for club programs and making the Maryland United roster. As Olivia’s passion for the sport grew, Maddie followed right in her sister’s footsteps. 

“It was something I really enjoyed doing,” said Olivia. “I think just by proxy of being the younger sibling, you're getting exposure to that as well.”

Maddie’s tall stature and natural aptitude for the sport gave her an early advantage. A sister at the top high school program, McDonogh, didn’t hurt, either. 

McDonogh head coach Chris and defensive coach Scott Robinson, another legendary sibling pair in the lacrosse community, ran the M&D Lacrosse club, one of the most prestigious programs in the country for middle- and high-school girls. Scott Robinson coached the 2018 team, and once it was clear that lacrosse was Maddie’s sport, her father Kris Jenner gave Robinson a call to watch the young girl play. 

“My first impression was, this girl's really, really, really got a really high upside. She was good. She was very good,” Robinson told The Chronicle. “...I felt she had a tremendous ceiling.”

Though Maddie still went through tryouts, the expectations of her were quickly growing. 

“I knew she would be an impact player,” said Robinson. 

And so it begins

Jenner joined the M&D 2018 Black team, a crew that would come to consist of her future teammates Anna Callahan and Maddie Johnston. The increased intensity was perfect for the budding attacker — and draw specialist. As Jenner grew, as a player and a person, she began to turn her analytical eye toward the circle. 

“She used that physical growth to her advantage,” said Robinson. While she now stands at 6-foot-2, by far the tallest on this year’s Blue Devil roster, her gradually increasing height advantage was something she had to learn to employ.

“I would send her still pictures of the girl that she would be opposing doing the draw,” said Robinson. “She was really a student of the game.”

As her skills at the draw developed, so did her overall dominance on the field. Between her knack for winning possessions in the circle, unmatched work ethic and raw athletic talent and potential, her prowess was quickly realized. 

“I remember one of the parents saying to me that they've got to change the rules, they are just so unfair,” recalls Robinson. “‘Maddie’s just so dominant, and it's just not fair. We didn't have a chance.’ And that's sort of how she was, that she just dominated so, so many games that teams didn't think they had a chance.”

Both Jenner sisters attended McDonogh School, a private K-12 institution in Baltimore County. Even in the Interscholastic Athletics Association of Maryland, IAAM, A-conference, perhaps the toughest in the country, McDonogh won nine straight championships from 2009 to 2017. 

Maddie made the varsity squad as a freshman, just in time for her sister’s senior season in 2015. The Eagles didn’t lose, riding an 11-win regular season to their seventh-straight conference title.

Jenner actually wouldn’t drop a match until the championship game of her senior season, when Notre Dame Prep would end a 198-game win streak. 

“We were very much spoiled in high school, that we experienced such a high level of success throughout our four years,” said Olivia. “I don't think you can replicate that anywhere truthfully.”

The Jenners had been surrounded by success in the women’s lacrosse sphere. Maddie’s club team, 2018 M&D Black, was one of the best 2018 teams in the country. Their home in Annapolis was just about 30 minutes from College Park, Md. — Maryland had a win streak of its own, at least in the NCAA title game from 1995-2001. 

When it came time for Maddie to make her college decision, all of that came into play. 

“She was the most recruited player on that [2018 M&D Black] team for good reason,” said Robinson. Lucky for her, she had an example to follow. 

Olivia had gone through the process just three years earlier. While their deciding factors and offers lists may have looked different, both were incredibly deliberate and considerate in their choices. 

“Maddie really had the pick of her choosing,” said Olivia. “... When she asked for feedback, I would give it to her. And I definitely let it be known that I would want her to be at Duke.” Olivia, however, was careful not to push her sister to a decision. Maddie went through the process without that added pressure, though the decision was ultimately the same. 

“I definitely thought about playing with her when I decided on Duke,” Maddie told The Baltimore Sun after National Signing Day her senior year. “It was kind of a struggle between not wanting to be in her shadow and wanting to do my own thing, so I did think about it, but I’m definitely glad I get to play with her for one more year.”

Despite a healthy attempt by her hometown Terrapins, Maddie narrowed her plethora of options to Duke and Princeton, according to Robinson. It was not, by any means, a hasty decision. Though still before the NCAA changed recruiting rules, postponing the process’ start date, Jenner was one of the last players on her club team to commit. 

“That’s sort of Maddie,” said Robinson. “She's not going to rush to a decision.”

At the end of the day, family ties won out. The sisters would get one more year to play together, this time in Durham.

Changing of the guard

Since arriving on Duke’s campus, Olivia had quickly carved out a path for herself. Through three seasons she totaled 362 draw controls. She wrote — and then rewrote — the program single-season record in the stat with 110 as a freshman and 146 as a junior. Inside Lacrosse First-Team All-American, Tewaaraton Award watch list and the top spot in the Blue Devils’ all-time draw rankings: No. 14 did it all. 

Captain of her senior team, Olivia had one last crack at the sport that had defined so much of her life. The only difference was that her younger sister was back on the circle with her. 

That team featured six IAAM A-Conference alumni and the rookie class alone sported the 2018 M&D Black trio. Maddie Jenner traded the No. 14 she had worn through her last three years of high school for No. 44. Maddie was the fourth-ranked recruit in the 2018 class, and those expectations along with the accomplishments of her sister placed astronomical pressure on her shoulders. 

“There are definitely some moments where maybe she probably thought it was a little too hard on her throughout the year,” said Olivia on her and Maddie’s relationship on the field. “I think that just comes from me knowing the potential she had as a freshman and wanting that to be realized.”

While Olivia was the team’s primary draw-taker, that season, the two honed their craft together. 

“We would share strategy and what was working and it was just amazing to have someone that knew exactly what was going on,” Maddie told The Chronicle in March’s Q&A. “... I got to see her consistency game in and game out, and that was inspiring.” 

“She's incredibly analytical,”  Olivia said of Maddie. “She also prepares to a level that even I didn't really prior to her getting there, in terms of just watching film and really studying the specific mechanics of whomever we were going to do the draw against that week…[Maddie] gave me an appreciation, I should say, for the level of preparation.” 

Olivia, once again, broke her own single-season draw record that year with a mark of 150. Maddie got acclimated to the pace and intensity of college play, tallying 88 draw controls of her own. The two worked together off the field and on the circle. 

“Prior to her I didn't really have anyone I could rely upon to kind of discuss the innate details of the draw. Having her there was pretty invaluable,” said Olivia. 

Freshman jitters quickly dissipated and Maddie integrated into the team. In Duke’s ACC tournament quarterfinal matchup against Notre Dame she recorded six draws en route to a 14-13 team win — the Blue Devils, however, lost the battle at the draw 15-14. The game was neck-and-neck throughout, and Charlotte North had given Duke a one-goal lead with just one second remaining in the first half. Maddie geared up for the draw, Olivia stationed herself on the circle. 

“I didn't get the draw, and I guess I should have because it kind of did come right to me. Maddie turned to me and kind of got in my face a little bit about how I'm not giving as much effort,” Olivia recounted. “... [She’s] the ultimate competitor. I'm her sister, I'm three years older, I'm a senior captain and she has the ability to basically tell me I'm not doing well enough.”

The making of a legend

While her sister graduated after the 2019 season, Maddie had nearly an entire college career in front of her. Fresh off a World Championship win with her U19 team and an All-Tournament honor to her name, she returned for her sophomore year, this time with the brunt of the draw responsibility falling on her and No. 14 back on her own jersey. The Blue Devils only played nine games before the season was canceled due to the pandemic: In those nine games, Maddie won 96 draw controls, good enough for fifth in the program record books. 

Her success continued as a junior. With 187 draw controls, a First-Team All-ACC selection and a Tewaaraton nomination, Maddie was living up to the sky-high expectations that her coaches and family members had fostered. 

As a senior, she etched her name into Duke women’s lacrosse lore. The all-time program record, previously held by Olivia with 512, was within sight. Maddie was only 141 away entering the year. It took 11 games. 

On March 20, 2022, Davidson came to Durham for a matchup with the then-eighth-ranked Blue Devils. With her family in the stands and a celebration video locked and loaded for the Koskinen big screen, Maddie started doing exactly the same thing that she always does — dominate in the circle. 

Maddie was blissfully unaware of the rapidly encroaching milestone. “I thought it might be during the Notre Dame game or Liberty but I didn’t [realize] it could’ve been today,” she said after the game

“There were moments I remember talking to her when she was in high school and then her freshman year, and I knew she was going to break it,” said Olivia. 

“I remember in high school, [Olivia] offhandedly said, ‘You're going to pass me,’ and I did not believe her because I did not have that confidence in myself,” Maddie said after the Davidson game. “So to have the record is a big confidence booster — really an honor because my sister was so great at it, too.”

Her final total for the season was 233 through 20 games, a new NCAA record. However, using her fifth year granted due to the pandemic, there was one record left to break — the NCAA all-time mark — which she was only 43 draws away from reaching and 44 away from breaking. 

That date crept up far faster than she anticipated — nine days into the season, to be exact, when Gardner-Webb came to Koskinen Feb. 19

“I thought it was in the 20s. I thought it wasn't going to happen in the third game,” said Maddie. She wasn’t far off — Maddie entered that game with 628 draws to her name, 18 short of setting the record. 

She had 15 in the first half. 

When Maddie finally did hit that magic 18, Kimel called a timeout. The team rushed the field and yet another video, less than a year removed from the first, played on the jumbotron. 

“I'm really grateful for all the love they showed,” said Maddie after the game. “I'm just so appreciative of my teammates.” 

Even with the monumental expectations placed on her throughout her lacrosse career, the mark was not easy to predict. 

“I did think she'd be really impactful. I think I didn't know how invested she was going to be in becoming so good at her craft,” said Kimel. 

“Everything that she's accomplished in college, I am not surprised in the least,” said Robinson. 

Maddie’s illustrious collegiate career is coming to a close, likely to the pleasure of each and every draw taker in the NCAA ranks. Through five years at Duke, she proved herself “the ultimate competitor,” as her sister put it, “just dominating games,” according to Robinson. Next spring, for the first time since the 2014 season, there won’t be a Jenner girl wearing No. 14 in the circle. The Blue Devils will have to cope with the loss of a true Duke athletics legend. 

“[I’m] proud to be a part of this team,” said Maddie after setting the NCAA all-time record.

Looks like the feeling’s mutual. "We're just so proud of Maddie," Kimel said that afternoon.

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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