May 27, 2010

By Jeff Seidel
Special to NCAA.com

TOWSON, Md. - The Maryland women's lacrosse team never made any secret of its goals for the 2010 season. The Terrapins were upset by North Carolina in the national semifinals last year after winning their first 21 games. Maryland had beaten the Tar Heels earlier, which added to the sting of that loss and fueled its fire to finish the job from last year.

Maryland brought just about everyone back this season and rolled to a 20-1 record, drawing the top seed in this weekend's NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Final Four at Towson University. The Terrapins will meet Syracuse at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal, followed by North Carolina vs. Northwestern at 8 p.m.

The winners play for the national championship at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Maryland wants to get to the place it felt it belonged in 2009.

"We felt like we had a strong season last year," coach Cathy Reese said in a preseason interview. "Our goal is to become more consistent this year."

The Terrapins' goal also was to win the national title. Their success last year was a mild surprise in some ways, but most people knew how good the Terps were this season. They came into the season as a team on a mission. "We want to take it a step further this year," Reese said in that interview.

Maryland has a powerful attack that has carried the team the last few seasons. This year 10 players have scored at least 13 goals apiece.

Karri Ellen Johnson leads the way with 64, Caitlyn McFadden has 44 and Sarah Mollison has 40. Reese and players had said that, even though last year's semifinal loss to North Carolina proved painful, they had to get past it and focus on the job at hand.

So far, so good.

The teams in this year's Final Four have a lot of connections, which is not uncommon in lacrosse.

Syracuse, which is 15-6 and upset Georgetown and James Madison in postseason play, is coached by Gary Gait. He was an assistant at Maryland for nine seasons - and Reese played on the team during that time.

Christina Dove leads Syracuse in scoring with 94 points, and she went to high school in Maryland. The other semifinal features five-time defending national champion Northwestern (19-1) against North Carolina in a rematch of last year's title game.

Northwestern had little trouble beating the Tar Heels 21-7 in that game, but North Carolina has apparently learned from that experience.

The Tar Heels handed Northwestern and Maryland their only losses of the season this year. North Carolina (17-2) scored an 18-16 victory at Northwestern and handed the Terps a 13-9 loss in Chapel Hill late in the season.

In the victory over Maryland, Kristen Taylor had four goals and one assist. Taylor is one of the team's three leading scorers. Corey Donohoe (73 points), Becky Lynch (65) and Taylor (57) have played big roles in sparking the offense. That offense played a large part in the victory over Northwestern, which stopped the defending champion's 41-game winning streak. It was also the Wildcats' first home loss in 59 games.

Northwestern is the team that most will be watching. The Wildcats have turned into a lacrosse dynasty. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller - who played at Maryland in the mid-1990s - has a team that has remained strong despite losing some key players from last year's title squad.

But the Wildcats haven't slowed down. Their only loss was the North Carolina game, and Northwestern certainly will be looking to avenge that and get a shot at a sixth straight national crown. In addition, the Wildcats have won 22 consecutive NCAA tournament games.

They also have a powerful offense, led by Katrina Dowd (106 points), Shannon Smith (94) and Danielle Spencer (71), which causes lots of trouble for opposing defenses.

"We're so excited to be heading back to the Final Four this weekend," Amonte Hiller told the team's website. "It's an incredible time of year." So there are questions for each team heading into this big weekend.

Can Northwestern repeat as champion yet again? Can Syracuse pull another surprise or two? Will North Carolina beat Northwestern again?

And will Maryland be able to finish the job it started last year?

It should make for a very interesting weekend of lacrosse.