Maryland women’s lacrosse may be 20-1 this season with a regular-season conference championship, but the Terrapins believe their resilience above all else has prepared them for this Final Four run.
Despite the Terrapins’ success this season, one key difference from recent years is the amount of close calls. Three regular-season wins in particular could have easily gone another way, but experience and strength prevailed.
Maryland took down then-No. 3 North Carolina 13-12 and then-No. 4 Syracuse 12-11 in double-overtime in back-to-back home games, marking the first two key moments of the season. In a road game at Northwestern in April, both teams were tied at 12 when the game moved indoors, where Maryland capitalized and left with a 17-13 road win.
“Preparation is key,” head coach Cathy Reese said of her team’s ability to navigate tough situations. “Those are those moments where it comes down to the wire, just again, taking that deep breath and believing that you know what you needed to do to prepare ourselves for these situations.”
This has translated to the NCAA Tournament. In the second round against Stony Brook, the Terrapins found themselves down 4-0 fast and lost the first five draws. But they didn’t panic, knowing they had time to right the ship, and ultimately roared back to lead 11-6 at halftime and win 17-8. Maryland easily beat Denver by the same score in Saturday’s quarterfinal to reach championship weekend.
“Just being able to focus on what’s ahead rather than what’s behind, I think, is something really important, especially when you get to this part in the season,” Reese said. “Being able to learn from the past, but stay present, so we can keep moving forward.”
This philosophy starts with Reese, but having such an accomplished and influential senior class helps. Whether it’s Caroline Steele, Jen Giles and Erica Evans on the offensive end or Megan Taylor and Julia Braig on defense, Maryland has championship experience across the board. The Terps’ seniors account for nearly half of the team’s offense this season, averaging 7.7 goals per game, while Taylor has saved a career-best 55.6 percent of shots she’s faced.
“I mean, one, it’s huge to have that production,” Steele said. “But two, that leadership of the underclassmen—the freshmen, sophomores, juniors that can kind of watch the upperclassmen, the seniors, do that kind of helps, especially in these big games coming up.”
The 2019 Final Four marks the 11th consecutive championship weekend that Maryland has been a part of. Seven have ended in the national championship game, and four have ended with the Terrapins on top of the women’s lacrosse world. That last title came in 2017, when the team’s nine seniors included two Tewaaraton finalists (and eventual winner Zoe Stukenberg).
This year, Maryland has nine seniors (including two Tewaaraton finalists) and one key graduate transfer, and it’ll be up to this group to lead the charge. The Terrapins will aim to avenge their only defeat this season against Northwestern on Friday night, and a win means either a rematch with North Carolina or a date with Boston College, who’s reached the last two title games and eliminated Maryland last year. It won’t be easy, but this team has showed it can step up when it needs to.
“We’ve really leaned on this senior class this year,” Reese said, “and a lot of them have played for some four years, some three years, some two years and some even now with [Erica Evans] transferring in, that have just really embraced the spirit of Maryland lacrosse.
“It’s a different journey that we’ve been on through this season that has gotten us to where we are, and I’m just not ready for it to end.”