For the University of Maryland, finishing a season at or near the acme of women's lacrosse is more an expectation than a hope. In eight years, Coach Cathy Reese has steered the team to six consecutive ACC Championships, two National Championships and four other Final Four appearances. In the 16 years that Cindy Timchal led the Terps, they won eight national titles and played on the final weekend on four other occasions.
Unlike the men's team, the women started the season ranked second nationally behind the defending champion North Carolina Tar Heels. Still, no one should assume that the 2014 edition of the Terps didn't pay their dues. While no crime, perhaps one or two bad mistakes in the 2013 championship game led to a year long sentence of thinking about what might have been and, by coming through with a season opening 14-3 rout of UMBC, the Terps announced their mission.
Passing the first test
Their first real test came at the beginning of a three game road trip starting at then seventh ranked Penn State and ending with the first conference game of the season at sixth ranked Duke. The 14-7 win over the Nittany Lions featured two jaw dropping performances. Brooke Griffin's seven goals and Abbey Clipp's 21 saves.
After easily dispatching Hofstra, the Terps traveled to Durham where Beth Glaros became Maryland's goal scorer du jour finding the net six times. The Terps scored in batches against the Blue Devils with runs of five, six, and four goals in the 19-10 win.
Syracuse Act I
Still ranked second, Maryland sported a perfect 7-0 record when they rolled into another ACC road test at third ranked Syracuse. Though the game was tight throughout and clearly a matchup between two of the sport's best squads, the Orange led only once - a 3-2 lead at the midway point of the first half. Maryland's response came in the form of three straight goals over a span of three and a half minutes to grab a two goal lead. Over the next 19 minutes spanning the two halves, the Terps and the Orange traded goals. The score stood at 8-7 when Zoe Stukenberg and Taylor Cummings managed to put together back to back goals for the first time since that early three goal spurt to provide a 10-7 cushion. From that point, the Terps were happy to swap goals and held on for the 12-10 win.
A close call
Maryland was a perfect 12-0 when fourth ranked Boston College came to College Park at the end of March. At the outset, the game looked like it was shaping up as another Terrapins rout. The home team scored the game's first four goals and made it look easy. But the Eagles made some adjustments and after trailing 6-3 at halftime, scored the first five goals in the second half to take an 8-6 lead with under 20 minutes to play. At this point, Coach Reese made two key changes when she replaced Clipp in goal with freshman Emily Kift and inserted another freshman, Deb Milani, into the draw circle to spell a struggling Taylor Cummings.
The Terps responded by scoring three straight with two goals by Cummings sandwiching a score by Glaros. At this point, Kift, who registered three saves in her nineteen and a half minutes of action, gave up her only goal allowing BC to knot the score at nine. The defensive battle continued but with 4:19 to play, Erin Collins took a pass from Kelly McPartland to score the game winner and the Terps edged the Eagles 10-9.
Perhaps the most anticipated game of the season would be a battle for a number one ranking but not a game between undefeated teams. The Terps held up their end of the bargain bringing in a 13-0 record but the defending champion North Carolina Tar Heels were coming off their first loss of the season - a 7-5 decision at Northwestern.
Maryland got off to an authoritative start taking a 7-2 lead through the first fifteen minutes. But this game would be no pleasure cruise. The Tar Heels scored five of the next six to close within one and evened the score at nine before a late Stukenberg goal gave the Terps a 10-9 halftime edge.
Carolina came out of the break and kicked sand in Maryland's face scoring the first five goals and taking a 14-10 lead. The Tar Heels' lead eventually grew to five and though the Terps scored the last three goals, UNC had built enough of a margin to hold on 17-15 and hand Maryland their only loss of season.
They ain't gonna lose
Traveling to Princeton, Maryland escaped with an 8-7 win when Kelly McPartland scored the game winner with just over four minutes to play. The Terps blasted through their final two regular season games including scoring a season high 22 goals in the finale against Virginia Tech.
Those two squads squared off again five days later in the ACC Tournament. Though the final margin was closer, the Terps scored a comfortable 14-9 win that allowed Reese to rest a number of her starters. The scene repeated in the semifinal with Maryland taking another deceptively close 15-9 win this time over Virginia. Then came
Syracuse Act II
The ACC Championship game matched the 18-1 Terrapins with the 17-1 Orange. At the start, it looked as though the game would play out much like the first contest. Maryland score twice to open the game but Syracuse bounced back to knot the score at two. The teams swapped goals before the Terps strung together three straight to take a 6-3 lead before going into halftime on top 7-5.
Maryland's defense and balanced offense dominated the second half. The Terps forced six Syracuse turnovers and held the high powered Orange offense to just two goals - one of which came with under a minute left. Maryland, meanwhile registered six goals from four different players to claim the 13-7 win and their sixth consecutive ACC Tournament Championship.
The NCAA Tournament
Maryland's first two NCAA Tournament games turned out to be home field rematches of road games the Terps had comfortably won in the regular season. When they traveled to Penn in mid-March, Maryland routed the Quakers 15-5. The NCAA Tournament game was closer but not by much with the Terps on the long end of the 13-5 final. Nor did Duke prove much of a challenge for a determined Terrapins unit. Though Maryland failed to match the 19 goal outburst of the first game, they brushed aside the Blue Devils handily dispatching them 15-8.
Facing down a nemesis
Maryland's foe in the national semifinal would be the Northwestern Wildcats. The teams had faced one another four times since 2010 always in the Final Four. In 2010, Maryland ended Northwestern's string of five consecutive titles. The Wildcats came back to take down the Terps in the 2011 title game and in a 2012 semifinal. In the 2014 matchup, Maryland would prevail.
After falling behind 2-1, the Terps patiently countered the Wildcats' slowdown strategy. Despite two long scoring droughts of about seven minutes each, Maryland scored the final four goals of the half. The last two come with under two minutes to play. At the break, Maryland held a 5-2 lead.
The Wildcats scored the first goal of the second half but the Terps answered with another three goal run to open the lead to five with 16 minutes to play. Northwestern continued their deliberate play and the teams traded one goal each over the ensuing eight minutes. At that point, the Wildcats turned up the pressure on both ends of the field. Though they scored the final two goals, it was too little too late. With the 9-6 win Maryland moved on to their second consecutive championship game. It was time for
Syracuse Act III
In front of an NCAA record crowd of 10,311 the question challenging Maryland was: Can you beat a quality team three consecutive times in the same season. Initially, it looked as though the answer would be an emphatic yes as Maryland raced out to a 5-0 lead. But Syracuse, whose offense featured two of the best attackers in women's lacrosse, answered with a run of four and it was, as they say, game on.
With the score at 5-4 and the momentum flowing heavily in favor of the Orange, the Terrapins' star midfielder and the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player Taylor Cummings, effectively said, "Not this year!" Cummings took the draw and sprinted through the Syracuse defense before ripping a shot into the upper right corner to turn the tide back toward Maryland. Beth Glaros and Cummings added back to back goals building Maryland's lead back to 8-4. At halftime, the Terps led 9-6.
After Syracuse scored to open the second half, Brooke Griffin registered a natural hat trick and Kristen Lamon tacked on her third goal of the night. The Terps held a 13-7 lead. Only 20 minutes stood between them and their twelfth national championship. Kailah Kempney ended Maryland's run but Glaros banged home her fourth and fifth goals of the night. The lead was 15-8 and the championship was 11 minutes away.
Katie Webster scored for the Orange to make it 15-9 with 7:10 remaining. With 5:41 to go, Webster scored again and the lead was five. Thirty-six seconds later Amy Cross pulled Syracuse within four. After Alyssa Murray's goal, they were within three with 4:21 to play. In the end, however, the answer to the question was yes, as the Terps defeated the Orange for the third time. The horn sounded with Maryland ahead 15-12 and the for the twelfth time in their history and the first time since 2010 the Terps proclaimed, "We are the champions."
Taking their bows and curtain calls
To a player, every member of this Terrapins team would say the the only award with real meaning is that deceptively ordinary wooden NCAA Championship Trophy. But awards did flow to many on Maryland's squad.
The Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association tabbed six Terps as All-Americans. Brooke Griffin joined Cummings, Douty, and McPartland on the first team. Beth Glaros was named to the second team and Alice Mercer held a spot on the third team. The quartet of first teamers also won spots on the Womenslax.com All-America Team. That site named Douty the Defender of the Year and Reese as National Coach of the Year.
Inside Lacrosse and the IWLCA both tabbed Cummings and Douty as national Midfielder of the Year and national Defender of the Year respectively.
As for Cummings, the standout sophomore added the Tewaaraton and Honda Awards as the top women's lacrosse player in the country.
So, all in all, February to June was a happy time for Maryland fans. Clap along if you feel like that's what you want to do because not only is happiness the truth, the best part is, we get to do it all again next spring.