"Not if you're better." This is a response I made to one Exreehipsters in the comments section of Jake's Maryland - Bryant game recap. He had commented, "It is VERY hard to beat a good team three times." Clearly, in 2014 when it comes to women's lacrosse, Maryland is better than Syracuse as they topped the Orange for the third time this season. This time, the final score was 15-12 and the win gave Maryland their eleventh NCAA championship and twelfth overall.
Now, the clock has just ticked past 2:00 a.m. and I'm sitting at my kitchen table waiting for some water to boil so I can make a cup of tea. My body and brain are trying to process a barrage of conflicting signals - much as they had to do Sunday night after Syracuse responded to Maryland's five goal salvo that opened the game and created a quiet (there's no cheering in the press box) elation that was quickly shut down by the Orange's four goal response.
Here's my problem: I still have some leftover adrenaline zipping around after Maryland's 15-12 win over Syracuse in the NCAA women's lacrosse championship game Sunday night. But I'm also feeling the effects of the two shots of something or other that I drank at the postgame celebration with other fans, boosters, parents, players, coaches, and well, you get the picture. (And speaking of pictures, somewhere someone must have posted a photo of Maryland's Athletic Director, Kevin Anderson, dousing Coach Cathy Reese in champagne.)Then there's also the insufficient caffeine from the Diet Dr. Pepper I drank on the drive home.
Through it all, I'm trying to gain enough clarity to compose a marginally lucid analysis of the game to publish by the 10:00 am deadline. All I really want to write is WE'RE THE NATIONAL CHAMPS! So everybody can just shut up! But I can't do that, so here's point one.
Balance, balance, balance
Here is one reason Maryland has brought a National Championship Trophy back to College Park The Terps have astonishing balance. With the season now over, the final goal tallies for the Terps' top four goal scorers are: Taylor Cummings 63; Brooke Griffin 62; Kelly McPartland 61; Beth Glaros 53. Syracuse held McPartland to one goal and one assist in the title game. Maryland's response came in the form of five goals by Glaros and hat tricks from Cummings and Griffin. Oh, and the Terps also got a hat trick from Kristen Lamon who stepped in to replace Halle Majorana, the team's fifth leading scorer who left the squad for personal reasons several weeks ago. The Terps are a squad with too many weapons and a group of players who are willing to use them all. Which brings me to point two.
Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork
This one comes in few flavors. First, on the defensive side of the ball. Megan Douty has been the focus of attention for Maryland's defense and when you watch the Terps play, there's little Douty why. (I know I used this pun in another story but it's a pretty good one and worth using again.) But Douty receives plenty of support from mates Shanna Brady, Nadine Hadnagy, Alice Mercer and Casey Pepperman. Mercer and Hadnagy are budding stars and will anchor the Terps' defense for years to come as Mercer is just a sophomore and Hadnagy a preternaturally mature freshman who, as a senior in high school called Coach Reese after last season's heartbreaking championship game loss to North Carolina, and vowed there would be no repeat. Flavor number two:
I've interviewed a range of players over a range of sports. The practiced ones have gone to the Crash Davis school of sports cliches.
Crash Davis: It's time to work on your interviews.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Crash Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play... it's pretty boring.
Crash Davis: 'Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down.
Interviewing athletes, you hear these cliches often. And that includes the cliches about credit to my teammates. Sometimes players are sincere. Sometimes they're not. (And sometimes it rains. Think about that.) When a player on this year's Terrapins' women's lacrosse team says it, they mean it. Each and every one of them. And now we come to point number three.
Taylor Cummings, Taylor Cummings, Taylor Cummings.
It should come as no surprise that Cummings was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Douty, Glaros, and McPartland joined her on the All-Tournament team. But Cummings demonstrated her greatness and unselfishness Friday night.
Her greatness was on display as she adjusted her style in the draw circle away from one of her strengths to more effectively counter Alyssa Leonard one of the best draw control players in the country. Against Syracuse, she returned to a style of play that allowed her to win eight draw controls.
Her unselfishness came into play when it became clear that the Wildcats planned to face guard her all over the field. Rather than forcing herself on the offense, Cummings parked herself near the thirty meter line trusting her teammates to win the six on six battle - which they did. Thus can a player dominate a game without touching the ball. There's no particular logical flow to point four but it's 03:30 and the tea only helped a little and I have one more, more, more.
Composure, composure, composure
The final foul tallies for the championship game were Maryland 24 Syracuse 43. While winning the battle of fouls, the Orange also won the battle of yellow cards picking up a 6-0 shutout. Similarly, in Friday's game with Northwestern, the Wildcats had thirty fouls and four yellow cards to the Terrapins' fifteen and none. And I remind you of Coach Reese's comment, "We want to make sure our team doesn't react. Sometimes that's the strategy of other people, to play a very physical style and I want to demonstrate class all over the field. I want our kids to play with pride and to play because they love the game and they love each other. I don't want anything to rattle us. We need to be calm and confident in everything we do. We talk about it on a regular basis, not just in preparation for tonight or for any of our other games. It's something that's important to our style of lacrosse at Maryland."
There's also a degree of composure necessary to close out a game. Reese said afterward, "We were thinking about slowing it down a little after the 10-minute mark. But we had trouble getting draws in that period and draws led to goals for them. Once we did regain possession, we needed to hang onto it, we needed to make sure the ball stayed in our hands and didn't get back into their hands because they were able to score when they had it. That was our intention and our focus when we got the ball back with five or six minutes left in the game."
A point about class
I'd like to make a point about class. Really about winning with class and losing with class. Here's the first part of Maryland coach John Tillman's remarks after Saturday's national semifinal loss to Notre Dame, "Just like to first congratulate Notre Dame. I thought they played a great game today, executed very, very well in just about every facet of the game, and I felt like outplayed us in almost every facet. Certainly I need to do a better job of getting our guys prepared and get them organized."
And here's what Coach Reese said in her opening statement, "First I'd like to start off and congratulate Syracuse on a great game and great season. Turning the attention to my team, what an amazing night this is for our Maryland lacrosse program. Our girls came out and fought hard from the opening whistle until the end."
Here is the full text of Syracuse coach Gary Gait's opening statement:
"Unfortunately, we came up short today. Play hard to the end. We'll go back to drawing board next year."
Speaks for itself, I think.
A second point about class - or something
Above, I noted that Athletics Director Kevin Anderson was on hand to celebrate the second National Championship of his tenure (the other belongs to, need I say it, field hockey). I also spotted several other members of the athletics department. Speaking of field hockey, head coach Missy Meharg was on hand Friday night though I didn't see her on Sunday.
Maryland's new head volleyball coach, Steve Aird, his family and much of his staff were in Towson for the pregame tailgate but with two very young children in tow he didn't hang around for the post game hijinks. However, in a signal that Maryland hired the right person to head up the volleyball program, Aird told me that he'd been in Chicago on a recruiting trip and had changed his flight to be certain he was back in time to see the game "because it's the right thing to do."
And I can't begin to mention the number of former players, parents of former players, and extended family members I spotted in the big Terps party tent. The folks from Syracuse's radio station asked me into their booth for a short interview before the game. When they asked about the crowd, I pointed out the row of players seated in the front row below the press box. From Jen Adams, now the head coach at Loyola (and I think a teammate of Reese's for one year) leading the cheers to last season's Tewaaraton winner Katie Schwarzmann, the number was impressive.
Also speaks for itself, I think.
My final words
Congratulations, Coach Reese and the same to all your assistants, staff, and especially to your players. What a great ride you've taken us on over the last two seasons and finally to the pinnacle this season.
All the best to seniors Mary Angstadt, Annie Farrell, Amalie Trentzsch, Jen Mendez, and Maryland's only senior starter, Beth Glaros. We couldn't be happier for the way your lacrosse careers at Maryland ended.
To the thirty returning players: Savor this moment. Times like this come neither frequently nor easily. Take a day or two, then start back to work. Defending a title can be harder than winning one. Your fans thank you and we can't wait until next year.