May 30, 2010

By Jeff Seidel, Special to NCAA.com

TOWSON, Md. - Maryland suffered through a nightmare in the first nine minutes of Sunday night's NCAA Division I lacrosse national championship game.

Everything that could go wrong did. The Terrapins watched five-time defending champion Northwestern jump to a 6-0 lead. The officials waved off a goal, and Maryland couldn't seem to stop the speedy Wildcats near the goal.

But the game slowly began to change midway through the first half. Goalie Brittany Dipper began making saves as the offense awakened. Maryland's defense tightened up and held Northwestern scoreless for over 27 minutes as the Terrapins rallied to shock the five-time defending champion Wildcats, 13-11, for their first championship since 2001.

The game was played before a crowd of 9,782 at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium, the largest crowd ever to see a women's lacrosse game in the United States. This was the school's 10th Division I national title for women's lacrosse - the most in NCAA history.

Maryland (22-1) was fueled by its surprising loss to North Carolina in last year's national semifinal. The Terrapins wanted to make up for that, and they did it this year - although it wasn't easy.

"We got one step further," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. "What an amazing night for the Terps."

Reese had been part of other amazing nights like this at Maryland. She was a player or assistant coach when the Terps won seven national titles in a row from 1995-2001. But Maryland didn't appear in good shape early when Northwestern (20-2) scored repeatedly on shots from right around the cage for that 6-0 lead just 8:36 into the game.

The Wildcats appeared to be too quick and fast for Maryland, and Dipper didn't even make a save until over 17 minutes had elapsed. But the goalie then got three stops in under four minutes and finished with seven overall to let Maryland slowly climb back into the game.

Sarah Mollison (three goals, one assist) led the way with four points. Katie Schwarzmann and Karri Ellen Johnson both got three goals while Caitlyn McFadden (Most Outstanding Player) and Brandi Jones each pitched in with two goals and one assist.

The Maryland offense slowly began to awaken midway through the half. Despite having a second goal waved off - an inadvertent whistle - Schwarzmann and Mollison scored 47 seconds apart to cut the lead to 8-5 with 11:03 left in the half. That sparked a seven-goal run which gave the Terrapins a 10-8 lead with 19:57 left in the game.

"We never gave up," McFadden said. "We just kept believing in each other...and we definitely stepped it up defensively." Iliana Sanza came in off the bench and gave the defense a lift. The Terrapins began to do a better job of stopping Northwestern from getting the quick shots near the crease that the Wildcats repeatedly got in the opening minutes. They also held Katrina Dowd, who came into the game with 77 goals and 109 points, to just one assist.

Maryland also was more consistent on draw controls after struggling at first. The Terrapins finished with a 14-12 edge there and stopped the Wildcats from gaining possession and holding the ball to set up plays.

That's why Northwestern didn't score for 27 minutes, 33 seconds. But Alexandra Frank and Shannon Smith (three goals, one assist) scored consecutive goals to tie the game at 10 with 12:03 remaining.

Jones then snapped the tie on a great pass from McFadden to beat a double-team with 9:51 left. McFadden scored from in front to give Maryland a 12-10 lead with 5:47 left.

Danielle Spencer cut its deficit to 12-11 for Northwestern before Maryland's Johnson clinched it off a slick pass from Mollison with 2:03 left. The shot beat goalie Brianne LoManto (six saves) and locked it up.

"I think that Maryland is a tremendous team," said Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who played with Reese at Maryland. "They're not going to let down, and they really fought back. I think we started to stand around a little bit on offense and not do what got us to that point."

Maryland never trailed after tying the game at eight late in the first half. The Terrapins combined their tough defense and timely offense and turned a nightmarish start into a dreamy finish.

"We really knew this was going to be a [fight]," Reese said. "We gave everything we had, and we loved every second of it."