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Maryland women’s lacrosse one-upped itself with a perfect 2017 season

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The Terps followed a close call with another title, and went undefeated to enter the history books.

NCAA Lacrosse: Women's Championships Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland women’s lacrosse started the 2017 season with some questions to be answered. The Terps were coming off a crushing loss to North Carolina in the national title game and trying to replace a senior class that finished 88-4 and included three-time Tewaaraton award winner Taylor Cummings.

When this team first took the field, it was ranked No. 2 in the country. While the Terps were expected to at least contend for another championship, their success was far from a given.

This wasn’t the Maryland team that was supposed to go undefeated. But it did just that.

The Terps secured their third national title in four years and 14th in program history on Sunday, outlasting Boston College in a 16-13 roller coaster of a final. Maryland finished the spring 23-0, the team’s first perfect season in 16 years.

“I don't think you realize how hard [winning it all] is as a coach until you coach,” head coach Cathy Reese said after the game. “Then you're there, and there are so many great teams out there and everyone is fighting for it and going.”

This team kept facing challenges, and it kept coming through. Maryland beat eight ranked teams in the regular season—including four top-five wins—and entered the NCAA Tournament 19-0 with 11 wins against the field. In the first three months of the season, the Terps only played five games decided by fewer than five goals.

The nail-biters arrived in the tournament. No. 8-seed Stony Brook went into College Park and led by as many as four goals in the second half. With its back against the wall, Maryland scored six of the game’s last seven goals to win by one. After the Terps vanquished No. 4-seed Penn State in the Final Four, Boston College stayed with them all afternoon Sunday. The teams entered halftime tied 5-5, and even after Maryland started the second half with five goals in five minutes, the Eagles countered with a run of their own, trimming the lead as low as one.

“We knew what we were going up against,” said Boston College head coach Acacia Walker, who played for the Terps from 2002-05. “Maryland's amazing. They're amazing. Their coaches are amazing. Their players are some of the best. So you have to be excellent. You have to beat your best.”

While Maryland wasn’t its best self in the final game, the Terps were more than good enough.

This win sends off 10 seniors with their third national championship; the class finished 89-3, one game better than its predecessor. Tewaaraton finalists Zoe Stukenberg and Nadine Hadnagy led the way all season, and Caroline Wannen scored a key goal in her final game. After last year’s seniors came up one game short, this group went out on the highest of high notes.

“You're going to make me cry thinking about all four years at Maryland,” Stukenberg said. “Coming to Maryland was so much more ... than a lacrosse team. This is a family, and this was everything I ever dreamed or hoped of. This was way more. I love Maryland. I love everything about it.”

The Terps will now have to move on from another sensational class. If anyone’s equipped to do that, though, it’s them. Fifteen of Maryland’s 16 goals Sunday were scored by underclassmen. Sophomore Caroline Steele scored six, while junior Megan Whittle’s two goals brought her to a team-high 71 this season. This team isn’t leaving the national picture anytime soon.

It sounds simple: Consistently recruit the most talent, turn those prospects into stars, come together as a team and compete for a title. But it isn’t simple, no matter how often Maryland makes it look so. The Terps’ dominance year in and year out is unrivaled in this sport and in rarefied air across the entire sporting landscape.

That dominance continued Sunday, as Maryland captured the ultimate prize again.