The Road So Far
I couldn't resist a reference to 'Supernatural' after my last column dealing with exorcism. Congratulations to umcp96 for being the first to get my 'Lion King' reference. Your scar pun brought me a great deal of joy.
Maryland and UNC were the top two teams in the country all season long. They played an early season game in late February in College Park, where the Terrapins beat the Tar Heels 13-11. They were the top two seeds in the bracket and face off in the title game for the second time in three years.
The last time these two teams met up with the championship on the line, they played the greatest NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship game in history. UNC's Sammy Jo Tracy scored the winner in triple overtime to beat the previously undefeated Terps 13-12. Maryland and UNC are really good. Maryland is looking for their second straight NCAA Title and their record 12th overall while UNC is looking for their second title in three years.
UNC collected the first draw of the game and Maggie Bill scored just 15 seconds in on a free position. UNC picked up the next draw but turned it over. Maryland gave it right back on the other end and UNC tried to add to their 1-0 lead. Maggie Bill found Sam McGee in the middle of the Terps defense and she scored while falling down to give the Tar Heels a two goal lead.
Maryland finally got their first shot and goal of the game as Megan Whittle, Maryland's star freshman, raced by her defender and finished at the 25:50 mark. Alex Fitzpatrick had a big stop for Maryland on the other end and Taylor Cummings, the reigning Tewaaraton award winner, fired a shot into the left corner past UNC's Caylee Waters to tie the game up at two.
After a timeout with 17:30 left in the half, Maryland had the ball and had a one-man advantage for a couple of minutes because Sammy Jo Tracy was sent off with a yellow card for a slash against Erin Collins. Both teams missed a couple of chances but Brooke Griffin overthrew Cummings, who would have scored on an open goal. It was the easiest look that Maryland would probably ever see against North Carolina and they didn't take advantage of it.
Maryland took their first lead of the game as Cummings, who was behind the goal, found Erin Collins running down the left lane towards the net. Collins finished between two Tar Heels defenders and hugged Cummings as her head gear fell off. Bill then caught Cummings out of position. She took a pass from Sam McGee and scored a low goal from pretty far out to knot the game at three apiece. UNC won the next draw and Aly Messinger earned an eight meter. She shot a bounce shot that went between Alex Fitzpatrick's legs to help the Tar Heels recapture the lead.
Collins couldn't convert on an eight meter attempt and UNC took advantage of their possession. Marie McCool took a pass from Bill and finished over the top of Nadine Hadnagy with 3:12 left to go in the half to give UNC a 5-3 lead. Waters went to the ground to stop a Whittle bounce shot and UNC held for the last shot of the half. The Tar Heels tacked on one more as Sydney Holman spun left and shot low to the right with 3.4 seconds remaining in the half.
I wrote that in order to win tonight, Maryland would have to dominate the draw and avoid turnovers. UNC forced the Terps into five turnovers in the first half and led 6-4 in draw controls. They out-shot Maryland 11-7 and went 2-2 on free positions while Maryland went 0-2.
Megan Ward started the second half in goal for UNC. The Tar Heels won the opening draw of the half but turned it over, giving Maryland a chance to cut into their deficit. Cummings forced a shot with a defender draped all over her. Maryland got the ball back after UNC coughed it up on the other end. With just over four minutes into the second half, McPartland went isolation down the left alley, jumped, and finished top shelf to bring the Terps within two.
Erin Collins hit the pipe on a free position shot but the Terps got the ball back. Stukenberg's shot missed and UNC recovered but UNC overthrew their goalie and it went out of bounds. Cummings got the ball and found Griffin in transition on the left side of the goal. She hit a hard bounce shot to cut the lead to one. The Terrapins won the ensuing draw and had a chance to tie the game.
Whittle's shot hit the pipe. She later got drilled in the middle of the UNC defense but the refs decided to make it a jump ball of sorts and UNC ended up coming away with the ball. The Tar Heels turned it over and Maryland took advantage. The Terrapins patiently worked the ball around and Whittle drove and drew three defenders. She found a wide-open Cummings at the top of the arc. It was smooth sailing for Cummings as she drove right down main street and beat Ward one-on-one to tie the game at six. It was only Whittle's fifth assist of the year.
Whittle went isolation on the left side of the goal and finished top shelf with 16:56 left to play in the game to recapture the lead for the Terps. Waters came back in to relieve Ward. In 13:04, Maryland went on a 4-0 run and went from down 6-3 to up 7-6. Whittle struck again down the left side for her third goal of the game as she took Courtney Waite one-on-one and finished with a bounce shot to put Maryland up 8-6. She threw her stick down and jumped in the air before embracing Kristen Lamon.
Marie McCool stopped the bleeding for UNC with her second goal of the game off of a free position with 13:59 left in the game. Cummings got a hat trick with 11:57 left to play as she juked out Bill and shot low to beat Waters. Cummings jumped and won the next draw. Stukenberg took two shots and while both of them missed, Maryland retained possession. At this point in the game, Maryland had taken 12 shots in the second half and North Carolina had only taken two.
Maryland turned it over and Bill had her shot stopped by Fitzpatrick. Megan Douty got the ball to Alice Mercer, who took it all the way down the field. Maryland called timeout with 4:04 left and a 9-7 lead. Maryland turned it over and Bill took a pass from Kelly Devlin, spun and scored to bring the Tar Heels within one. It gave Bill a hat-trick and gave UNC their second goal of the half.
Maryland was awarded the draw when North Carolina tried to substitute a player in after the officials had set the draw, which is not allowed. Douty finally brought the ball across the restraining line for the Terps and they clung to a 9-8 lead with under two minutes to play. Bill was issued a yellow card and the Terps were up a man for the rest of regulation. After holding the ball for the final seven minutes and change to run out the clock against Syracuse in the semi-final, Maryland ran out the clock on UNC's upset bid to win their second consecutive national title.
After the game against Princeton where Maryland was down 6-4 at the half and ended up winning 18-10, Cathy Reese told me that the great thing about lacrosse is that there is always a second half. Those words rang so very true tonight.
Maggie Bill had two goals and two assists to lead UNC in the first half as they took a 6-3 lead into halftime. She finished the game with five points (three goals and two assists) just like Cummings did. Taylor Cummings had a goal, and an assist, but only two draw controls. Maryland got beat 6-4 on the draw in the first half. Cummings and Whittle dominated the second half. Cummings had two goals, an assist and five draw controls over the final 30 minutes while Whittle scored two quick goals. Whittle assisted Cummings on the game tying goal and then scored two goals in the span of 1:05 to give the Terps a two goal lead that they would use to hold off the Tar Heels.
Maryland went on a 5-0 run in a span of 10:06 and won this game because of it. They out-shot UNC 12-4 in the second half and dominated on the draw, 7-2. They limited themselves to three fouls and the Tar Heel turned the ball over six times in the second half, many of which weren't forced. In the end, they won the draw control battle and limited their turnovers in the second half. That helped give them the win because they possessed the ball for long stretches, wore UNC down and didn't let the Tar Heels have the ball for much of the second half.
Cummings said that head coach Cathy Reese left them alone for the most part at halftime and Cummings said that the team pulled together and said, "Alright, we have thirty minutes left and that will make or break our season. I think we really exemplified what Maryland lacrosse is in that second half." "The difference was halftime," said senior captain Megan Douty following the game. "We wanted to end the season on a high."
This team took that 30 minutes, dominated, and won their second straight national championship. Whittle was the difference. Cummings has led the team all year long but the freshman who doesn't play like a freshman was the extra juice that put Maryland over the top. All season long Whittle has said that her teammates tell her, "You deserve to be here. You can play big." Cummings and Whittle combined for six of Maryland's season-low nine goals tonight.
She has played her best games this season against Maryland's toughest opponents on the biggest stages when the lights shine brightest. Cummings said, "...I knew right away she would make an impact here...she hasn't played like a freshman all year. She's what got us here and she's a part of what made us a championship team tonight. We're lucky to have her."
Four Maryland players made the All-Tournament team. Megan Whittle made it as an attacker, Megan Douty made it as a defender and both Kelly McPartland and Taylor Cummings made it as midfielders. Cummings was named the Most Outstanding Player. One of the greatest players ever to suit up for Maryland and one of the greatest players to ever grace the college ranks shined under the lights tonight at PPL Park.
This is what I wrote at the end of my season preview, entitled 'Watch the Throne':
"The bottom line is that the Terps should repeat as national champions. They return almost all of their starters and a dynasty might be on the horizon if Maryland can hoist the trophy again. So watch the throne. Because Maryland might not be relinquishing it for a very long time."
Maryland played a great game tonight but that is not what made them champions for the second straight year. They faced a three goal deficit against a talented and hungry North Carolina team and they simply and calmly took back the lead and did not look back. They held off North Carolina by denying them opportunities and by playing Maryland lacrosse.
This team won their second straight national championship not just because they were incredibly talented but because they wore the mark of great teams, of champions. They stayed calm and composed under pressure. They were the favorites coming in and everyone knew it. They were down 2-0 early. They responded by scoring three straight goals. They were down 6-3 at halftime and were getting beat on the draw. They responded by scoring five straight goals in the second half. When they were up two, they allowed a goal to Marie McCool and then got it back two minutes later. They dominated the second half and played smart lacrosse late in the game. That is why they are champions tonight.
This program loses a lot of seniors. UNC's head coach Jenny Levy said, "...they're heavily laden with seniors and I'll be happy to see them all graduate." Griffin, McPartland, Douty, Lamon, Fitzpatrick, Brady and Collins will all be gone next season, just to name a few off the top of my head.
But tonight, those seniors aren't thinking about the fact that they just played their last game in a Maryland Terrapin uniform, with the red, white, black and gold draped across their backs. They are celebrating their second straight national championship right by the side of the Deleware River with their family, teammates and friends. What an accomplishment by a fantastic group of young women. This team has now won two straight national championships and that my friends is the bottom line.