I've heard it said that the third time's the charm. And so it will be for someone in women's lacrosse as the Maryland Terrapins and Syracuse Orange will meet for a third time this season. One question hanging in the air is: Can a Syracuse squad solve the puzzle of a Maryland team that is the only opponent to defeat them thus far this year - and provide support for the idea that it's difficult to defeat a team three times in one season? Or can a talented Terrapins squad once again assert their dominance? In the world of collegiate lacrosse, the stakes could be no higher as the winner will take home the ultimate prize - the NCAA Championship. Here are the basics:
When: Sunday, May 25, 2014 8:30 pm
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University, in Towson, MD
TV Coverage: ESPNU / ESPN3
How they reached the title game
In their semifinal, Syracuse faced off against a red hot Virginia Cavaliers team that had won nine of their last eleven games. The Orange simply dominated the Cavaliers, exploiting a failed and perhaps ill-conceived defensive strategy to double up Virginia 16-8 in a game where two meaningless UVA goals in the closing minutes made the final score marginally respectable.
To reach the championship game, Maryland had to take down a determined Northwestern Wildcats squad 9-6, maintaining their poise to overcome a physically aggressive Wildcats squad.
Game 1 Maryland 12 - Syracuse 10
Maryland was 7-0 and ranked second in the country when they traveled to Syracuse on March 10 to face off against the Orange who were also undefeated at 6-0 and ranked third. For women's lacrosse fans this was a high profile game and it lived up to its billing.
Early on, the game went back and forth. Syracuse scored first but Maryland answered with a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead. The Orange matched that with back to back goals of their own to edge in front. Then came the first critical stretch. Trailing 3-2, the Terps scored three straight to gain a bit of a working margin. Though the home team scored two of three to end the half, Maryland held a 6-5 lead at intermission.
The Terrapins scored first just seventeen seconds out of the break and, over the next eight minutes, the teams traded goals. That three goal run in the first half prevented the Orange from ever getting the equalizer. Clinging to an 8-7 lead, the Terps finally put two scores together just 45 seconds apart to edge out to 10-7, the largest lead of the game. The squads again began trading goals as Maryland saw their lead bounce between three and two eventually holding off the Orange to come away with the 12-10 win. There's a detailed recap here, if you're interested.
Game 2 Maryland 13 - Syracuse 7
The stakes were a bit higher when the Terps and the Orange met for the second time on the 27th of April. Not only would the game determine the ACC Champion but likely the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The first half of the game was, in some ways, similar to the the game in Syracuse. This time, the Terps broke out on top scoring the first two goals but Syracuse bounced right back to tie the score with eighteen minutes to play in the half. With the game tied at three, Maryland again put together a little three goal run to open some space. Again, the Orange scored two of the last three goals in the half but Maryland still held the lead, this time at 7-5, at the break.
The decisive run came over the opening fourteen minutes of the second half. While the Terrapins' defense was busy suffocating any Syracuse scoring effort, Maryland's offense managed to string together three goals to provide a five goal cushion. Though the Orange finally cracked the Terps' defense with fourteen and a half minutes to play, the overall defensive effort and pressure continued unabated, allowing the offense time to run three more scores together as Maryland cruised to a 13-7 win. Here's a place you can read about that game in detail.
What to watch for
The Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) announced their All-American teams earlier this week. Six Terrapins received the honor - with four making the first team and one each on the second and third teams. Syracuse placed three players on the three teams with Tewaaraton finalists, attackers Alyssa Murray and Kayla Treanor making the first team. Defender Kasey Mock was named to the second team. So, with nine All-Americans on the field, the first thing to watch for is high quality play.
Although they are not likely to try to slow the game as much as Northwestern did, judging by the two previous games, Syracuse Will Likely try to play at a measured pace. With two dynamic scorers, (as you'll see below), Syracuse coach Gary Gait seems to approach playing Maryland with a strategy of trying to keep the game close and hope one of his stars can score a late goal pace in an effort to both break down Maryland's defense and contain the Terps' high powered and explosive offense. Maryland is likely to try to counter this strategy by attacking quickly; especially off the draw (or so Baba Looey says). The Orange have been reasonably competitive with the Terps in the two previous contests. Maryland won 15 of 24 in the first game and 13 of 22 in the second.
Who to watch for
The IWLCA has laid it out for everyone. The Syracuse attack will center around their two All-Americans and Tewaaraton finalists, Kayla Traenor (#21) and Alyssa Murray (#1). Traenor, the ACC's Offensive Player of the Year, is the team's leading points producer with 77 goals and 37 assists. Murray is also both a scorer and a playmaker and has been throughout her career. She is second on the team with 62 goals but has a team high 44 assists. The two exploded against Virginia with Murray scoring six goals and adding three assists while Traenor added seven points on four goals and three assists.
In Kailah Kempney, the Orange send a player into the draw circle who can certainly rival Maryland's Taylor Cummings. Kempney leads Syracuse picking up 107 on the year. Katie Webster (#18 )is the Orange's third scoring option with 39 goals.
Second team All-American Kasey Mock (#14) and her defensive cohorts will have their hands full against the Terrapins. They contained Taylor Cummings in the first game, holding her to a single goal and no assists. But the Terrapins' balance was on display as Kelly McPartland picked up a hat trick and Beth Glaros and Zoe Stukenberg nitched two scores each. The Terps also got two goals from a less prolific scorer in Erin Collins. Maryland's balance showed again in the rematch with Cummings and Brooke Griffin each scoring hat tricks, while McPartland and Glaros added two apiece. In that game, the Terps again received a multi-goal performance from an unexpected source, senior Jen Mendez.
Watching Maryland, as Captain Louis Renault might have said, "Round up the usual suspects," and I'm not being a sentimentalist about it. The Terps are led by All-American and Tewaaraton Award finalist midfielder Taylor Cummings (#21). Cummings is tied for the lead in goals (60), and leads the Terps ground balls (37), caused turnovers (30), draw controls (120), and is tied for second in assists (23). However, she has plenty of company. Kelly McPartland (#6) also has 60 goals for Maryland and Brooke Griffin (#11) has found the back of the net fifty-nine times and second team All-American Beth Glaros (#20) has added forty-eight.
Defensively, the Terps are led by the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Tewaaraton finalist Megan Douty (#5). Douty, who has 19 caused turnovers and 34 ground balls, is likely to be matched up one on one at various times with Traenor or Murray. She's joined by third team All-American Alice Mercer (#8). Anchoring the last line of defense is goalie Abbey Clipp.
A final word
Maryland is a better squad than Syracuse if only by a small margin. Still, this is a game the Terps should win and in any sort of series - best of three, best of five, or best of seven, I would have no doubts. However, in a single game, any outcome is possible. A hot goalie, a surprise star, even poor officiating can turn a single game in favor of the underdog - especially a quality underdog. Take no win for granted.