Maryland women's lacrosse's perfect season ended on Sunday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium. The Terrapins fell in disappointing fashion in the national championship game to rival UNC, 13-7.
Maryland was going for its third straight national championship, but the Tar Heels came out swinging and never stopped until the Terps hit the canvas. Maryland tried to get back into the game. The Terps came within one goal early in the second half, but UNC answered the Terrapins' small run with a 5-0 run of its own. Once the Terps hit the mat, the Tar Heels kept them there.
Zoe Stukenberg got the scoring started a little less than two minutes into the game. UNC grabbed the ensuing draw control and pulled even at one goal apiece. Then UNC scored a goal to take the lead. Then the Tar Heels scored another, and another, and another and another. They took a 6-1 lead before Megan Whittle scored with 8:50 left in the first half. The Terps were scoreless for almost 20 minutes in the first half. Their execution was sloppy at best and flat-out horrible at worst. UNC was cutting through Maryland's defense with ease.
Megan Whittle went hard to goal to get her second score of the game. The Terps were within three when Maryland got a stop on defense and pushed the ball in transition. Stukenberg found Caroline Steele by the right post, and the freshman attacker scored a beautiful behind-the-back goal to bring Maryland within two. Megan Ward, UNC's goalie, made her seventh save of the half on Cummings' shot in the final seconds to preserve the Tar Heels' 6-4 lead. Ward was outstanding in the game's first 30 minutes, helping UNC take a 6-4 lead into the break.
Megan Whittle scored her third goal of the game in unusual fashion. She was trying to pass the ball inside to Zoe Stukenberg, but Stukenberg went by it and the ball found its way into the net. Maryland was down five in the first half and was now down just two. UNC pushed the ball in transition, but the Terps forced a turnover. Mercer fed Taylor Cummings, who ran through the defense and scored with 23:24 left in the game. The Maryland contingent erupted as Cummings' goal brought the Terps within one.
That's as close as Maryland would get as Carly Reed and Aly Messinger scored within 15 seconds of each other to push the Tar Heel lead to three. UNC never let Maryland make a run. In fact, the Tar Heels scored three more goals to make it a 12-6 game with just over 10 minutes to play. The Terps felt and looked out of it. Maryland never really looked comfortable.
Maryland didn't deserve to win this game. Even if they had played well enough for a chance to win, senior Megan Ward was lights-out for UNC. The senior made a career-high 14 saves in goal. UNC had five players with at least two goals. Carly Reed was outstanding, and Aly Messinger had a career-game in her final game for the Tar Heels. The Tar Heels weren't afraid of Maryland. They embraced this moment and they were deserving champions.
"Confidence and belief. We had 100 percent confidence and belief in ourselves. Every single play," Final Four Most Outstanding Player Aly Messinger said when she was asked how UNC was able to dominate the game. "There was no questioning what was going to happen. It was going to happen, and we were going to make it happen."
Cummings, Alice Mercer and Whittle were named to the All-Tournament team.
"Obviously we didn't have our best game," said Maryland head coach Cathy Reese after the game. "It's hard when you lose one game all season and it's your last."
After UNC (20-2) rushed onto the field to celebrate, Maryland (22-1) huddled up as a team just outside the draw circle. The Terrapins' dreams of perfection and a third straight national title? Crushed by a familiar foe. The distinguished and illustrious careers of Alice Mercer and Taylor Cummings? Finished.
For the second time in four years, UNC beat an undefeated Maryland team for the national championship. Devastating. Heart-wrenching. Sunday afternoon was a nightmarish end to Maryland's dream season.
"They were better," Cummings said, holding back tears. "I'm sad that's the way my class went out. That was my last game, but I couldn't be more thankful to have been part of this."
Just minutes removed from what might be the toughest loss of her entire lacrosse career, Cummings showed some of the character and the heart that has made her so special to the University of Maryland and to the sport of women's lacrosse.
She used her shirt to stop the tears that welled up in her eyes, sniffled and said, "I'm just so happy to be a part of it."
Three things to know:
1) Megan Ward was outstanding
UNC's senior goalie played an incredible game. She set a new career-high with 14 saves in her final game in Carolina blue.
2) Aly Messinger had a career game for UNC
Messinger's four assists were a career high and her six points were a career high as well. The senior was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
3) UNC played a much, much better game than Maryland and deserved to win
UNC outplayed Maryland in every facet of the game. The Tar Heels are now 4-2 against the Terps in the NCAA Tournament. They beat Maryland in the national title game in 2013 and, after losing to them in the last year's final, exacted their revenge this season.