BALTIMORE – Still soaked from a Gatorade bath while confetti falls on top of her players, Cathy Reese needed to step away from the celebration at Homewood Field for a moment.
The head coach of the University of Maryland women’s lacrosse team wanted to gather her thoughts as another long, treacherous journey ended with championship glory. She surrounded herself with her family as tears fell down her face watching her players hold up their program’s fifth trophy in nine years.
“It’s been a long journey, but I have genuinely loved it,” Reese said. “And when it all ends, it is genuinely surreal. We just won the national championship, and I have a class of seniors that will be missed, but I am glad they get to go out this way.”
The Terrapins were once again successful in capturing the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship on May 26. Maryland’s defense stymied Boston College as goalie and tournament MVP Megan Taylor led the way with 10 saves. Along with an early offensive assault by their attackers, Maryland held on for a 12-10 victory, winning the school’s 14th national title.
Maryland’s win did more than earn payback from losing to BC in last year’s semifinals. After a season dominated by their offense that averaged 16.41 goals a game, it was the Terrapins defense that was vital to their success during championship weekend. Taylor finished with 24 saves in two games while the defense forced turnovers with ease.
“I feel like I am in a dream,” Taylor said. “I’m just so happy. Every moment in all the ups and downs of that game; we all helped each other and had each other’s backs. We were all positive and ready to play Maryland-style lacrosse.”
Following their Big Ten Championship loss against Northwestern on May 5, Maryland needed to prove it was deserving of its overall No. 1 ranking. They muscled their way through their first two games of the tournament, outscoring their opponents 34-16, and setting up a rematch against the Wildcats in the semifinals.
“I think it really fueled our fire and allowed us to really reevaluate ourselves as a team,” junior Brindi Griffin said. “…I think that reminded us that every team would come out and give us their best game and if we do not do the same, we are going to lose.”
In front of 8,508 spectators on May 24, Brindi Griffin scored six goals while Taylor made 14 saves to lead the Terrapins to a historic 25-13 victory over their conference foes. It was the most goals Maryland has ever scored in an NCAA semifinal.
Maryland scored the first three goals and never lost the lead. Midfielder Grace Griffin scored four goals while Jen Giles and Erica Evans each converted a hat trick. Meanwhile, their defense kept Northwestern scoreless for the final 17 minutes.
The Terps did not face Boston College during the regular season. However, the key was to stop their trio of attackers, Sam Apuzzo, Dempsey Arsenault and Cara Urbank. After Caroline Steele’s opening tally, the Eagles took the lead, scoring two goals within 31 seconds.
However, the advantage did not last long as Steele tied it up with an off-balance shot from the left center of the 8-meter arc. Moments later, junior Kali Hartshorn pump faked a shot, tricking goalie Lauren Daly, before scoring her first of two goals. The Terrapins would go on to score five of next six goals before halftime.
Maryland’s strong defensive performance limited the Eagles attack and forced seven turnovers. During free-position shots for BC, the Terrapins defense swarmed after the ball-carrier without fouling most of the time, leaving no room for a decent chance.
Missed opportunities led to fast breaks for Maryland. Catie May converted a turnover into a sprint downfield before dishing off a pass from behind the net to an open Brindi Griffin for her third goal before halftime.
“I think in those moments, you can sometimes sit back, take off, play and not be progressive,” Giles said. “We did not want that. We wanted to keep attacking; attacking was our mentality all over the field.”
Boston College came out in the second half attempting to be physically imposing, but it led to four yellow cards. Meanwhile, Taylor and her defense continued blocking the Eagle’s offense, completing 23 out of 24 clearances, and limiting their effectiveness during free position opportunities. In 22 attempts, Boston College only scored once out of five shots.
“My defense today played out of their mind,” Taylor said. “They forced low-angled shots on a really very talented BC team. They are a real offensive threat and being able to hold that, it just shows how good we are, and I believe that I play with All-Americans in front of me.”
Giles scored two second-half goals to build back Maryland’s four-score cushion. Attacker Kenzie Kent scored two of her five points in the final five minutes, giving Boston College fans hope for a comeback.
Maryland’s defense once again stopped the Eagles’ final push. A charging foul with two minutes left gave the Terrapins a free possession to kill the clock before celebrating their championship victory.
The win was a bittersweet ending for its nine seniors and their graduate students to win a national title in their final college game. Instead of feelings of sadness, they were overcome by joy, happiness and support of their younger teammates. For Reese, that is the overall goal of her program.
“I want everyone that comes through and plays for me to graduate and to go and say that they were the best four years,” Reese said, holding back more tears. “And I have the opportunity to impact these players and their experiences. So, I want them to look back and say ‘hey, those were the best four years of my life’ and that they enjoy the moments they have together.”