May 29, 2010

By Jeff Seidel
Special to NCAA.com

TOWSON, Md. - The game many in the world of women's lacrosse wanted to see last year has finally arrived - this year.

Maryland will meet Northwestern for the NCAA Division I championship at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium. The Wildcats have won the last five national titles, and the Terrapins are seeking their first in nine years.

But Maryland (21-1) is even more fired up because the Terrapins expected to be there last year. That dream ended when North Carolina shocked unbeaten Maryland in the semifinal. The loss was painful, and the Terps pointed at getting to the finals from the first day of practice - or even as soon as that upset loss to the Tar Heels ended.

"We are super thrilled to be here," said Maryland coach Cathy Reese. "This is what these guys have worked for all year."

Maryland made the championship game after a 14-5 semifinal victory over Syracuse on Friday night. The Terrapins scored the final six goals to pull away from the stubborn Orange and earn a trip to a record 15th championship game. Maryland has won the title nine times.

In fact, Reese was an assistant coach when the Terps last won the crown in 2001.

Caitlyn McFadden gave herself a nice 22nd birthday present by scoring four goals to pace Maryland in the semis. She has scored in 44 consecutive games. Karri Ellen Johnson had two goals and three assists. Laura Merrifield, Sarah Mollison and Katie Schwarzmann each scored twice as part of the balanced attack that has carried the Terps this season.

Northwestern made the finals with a 15-10 victory over North Carolina. The Tar Heels beat both Maryland and the Wildcats in the regular season, but Northwestern earned a bit of revenge for that 18-16 home loss.

Katrina Dowd, Erin Fitzgerald and Danielle Spencer led Northwestern with three goals apiece in Friday's win, when the Wildcats took command with 11 second-half goals. Known as "Miss May," Dowd's three goals gave her 77 this season.

Northwestern (20-1) has won 23 straight postseason games.

This is the consecutive year that the Wildcats have won at least 20 games, and they finished with championships the first five times.

The semifinal games drew a crowd of 8,762, the largest ever to watch a women's lacrosse game in this country.

The Wildcats know this will be a tough game because the teams are so similar - especially on offense. In addition, the Wildcats are very much aware of how the Terps still want to erase the memories of 2009.

"[Maryland] lost last year in the Final Four, and I know how that hurts," said Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "Both of our teams are athletic, have good draw people and some really exciting players offensively, so I think it's going to be a great matchup."

It also has another interesting angle because Amonte Hiller and Reese were teammates when both played for Maryland. The teams haven't played each other in three years.

In terms of the championship game, Northwestern has been there and done that. Maryland desperately wanted to get there and do that last year. The Terps now have their chance. But getting past a five-time national champion will not be an easy task.

"I think it's going to be a great game," North Carolina midfielder Megan Boscia said. "Both teams were our toughest competition this year. I can't say who I think will win."