Here we are again. Maryland and Syracuse meet once more in the Final Four. Two programs led by two of the greatest players in the history of the sport. Similar styles with a coaching connection that spans decades.
Maryland and Syracuse will meet for the 21st time on Friday night at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania. The stakes? High. The winner will play for the national championship.
Pressure? Tons of it. The top-seeded Terrapins are the two-time defending national champions and are undefeated at 21-0. The Orange have been knocking on the door for years, but just can't seem to get over the hump against Maryland.
A quick history lesson
Three years ago, Syracuse lost to Maryland in the semifinals. Two years ago, they lost to the Terps in the national championship game. Last year, the Terps ousted them once again in the semifinals. The Terrapins are 19-1 all-time against the Orange and 8-0 in the Taylor Cummings/Alice Mercer era.
2013 - regular season - Maryland wins 19-11
2013 - national semifinals - Maryland wins 11-10
2014 - regular season - Maryland wins 12-10
2014 - ACC Tournament title game - Maryland wins 13-7
2014 - national championship game - Maryland wins 15-12
2015 - regular season - Maryland wins 10-7
2015 - national semifinals - Maryland wins 10-8
2016 - regular season - Maryland wins 14-9
That puts Kayla Treanor, one of the NCAA's top all-time goal scorers and draw control specialists, at 0-8 against the Terps during her four years at Syracuse. These are close, competitive games. Maryland's last three wins against Syracuse in the Final Four have come by one, three and two goals, respectively.
This is the story within the game itself. Without being overly dramatic, this game is important for legacies. Kayla Treanor helped elevate Syracuse's program to an elite status. The Orange are now expected to compete for national championships every year and they do. Treanor has gone to the Final Four in each of her four seasons with the Orange. This is the fifth consecutive Final Four for Syracuse.
Like it or not, Kayla Treanor will always be compared to Taylor Cummings and vice versa. The two senior superstars have different styles and play different positions, but they are undeniably two of the best to ever play the sport. Cummings has won the past two Tewaaraton Awards. Treanor finished behind her each time. The two are finalists for the award again this season. Treanor has rewritten the Syracuse record books, but that win against Maryland has been elusive. Going 0-for-9 against a rival school and opponent looks pretty bad.
This game may mean much more for Treanor's legacy, but Cummings' legacy takes a hit if she loses too. Falling short of the title in yet another undefeated season and missing out on the final for the first time in her career would hurt. She already has the two titles and the two Tewaaraton Awards, but a potential third title and Tewaaraton would cement her legacy and case as one of if not the most dominant players in NCAA history.
With all that said, ask either of these two players what they're focused on and the answer is tonight's game and nothing else. These two are focused on the task at hand.
Players to watch on Syracuse
Halle Majorana had a monster game in the quarterfinals against undefeated USC. The former Terp finished with three goals and three assists. If Syracuse is going to beat Maryland on Friday night, Majorana is going to have to contribute by scoring and facilitating.
It goes without saying, but Kayla Treanor will have to be a star in the draw circle and on attack for Syracuse to win. She is five points away from becoming Syracuse's all-time points leader, a mark she could hit in this game. "She has that inner drive to push herself to be the best that she can be," said Syracuse head coach Gary Gait on Thursday night at the Franklin Institute.
Allie Murray kept Maryland's juggernaut of an offense in check in the first half of their regular season game back in March. The Terps put two goals past her in the final 32 seconds of the half to take a 6-5 lead into the break. Maryland had eight different goal scorers in the first game, so Murray can't focus on just one player. If Syracuse is going to beat Maryland for just the second time in school history, Murray will have to play lights out in goal and stop Maryland from going on quick scoring runs.
Players to watch on Maryland
Just as saying Kayla Treanor has to play like a star in this game goes without saying, the same applies for Taylor Cummings. If Cummings can have a major impact on the game in myriad ways, just as she has done for the last two or three seasons, that will give Maryland a huge lift.
Caroline Wannen has had breakout games this season. This is her first taste of starting in the Final Four. Last year, she watched as Brooke Griffin carved up opposing defenses. Now it is her turn to lead the nation's top-scoring offense on the game's biggest stage. She did a good job in March against Syracuse's physical, high-pressure defense. Can she continue to facilitate, be aggressive and be unafraid to go to goal when each possession and moment is magnified?
Julia Braig has started from the get-go as a freshman on Maryland's formidable, top-10 defense. She missed the second round game against Johns Hopkins due to injury, but she came back and had a very good game against UMass in the quarterfinals. Braig reminds me of All-American Nadine Hadnagy during her freshman season. She is solid. She is fundamentally sound, doesn't make a lot of mistakes and isn't a flashy player. She just goes out and gets the job done. Syracuse will go after her because she's a freshman, so she'll have to limit her mistakes and continue to play sound, solid defense.
How to watch
Where: Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania
When: Friday, May 27th at 7:30 p.m. ET