'Best foot forward'
Maryland seniors aim to end careers with bookend title
VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Katie Schwarzmann and her seven classmates reveled in the ultimate rookie experience, being a part of Maryland's last Division I women's lacrosse national championship while getting acclimated to the college game.
Three seasons later, the Terrapins' eight-player senior class finds themselves hours away from their final chance to hoist the walnut and bronze before they graduate. The nation's top-ranked team will look to complete a 23-0 campaign on Sunday under the Villanova Stadium lights when it meets ACC rival North Carolina for the third time this year.
“It's awesome,” Schwarzmann said through a wide smile. “And to be my senior year and to go out and play in a national championship [game], there's no better feeling.
“Hopefully we're going to do what we need to do and come out with a championship.”
Granted, Schwarzmann and her classmates are certainly no strangers to playing on the final weekend of the women's lacrosse season. The Terps lost to Northwestern in the 2011 title game and saw their path detoured by those very same Wildcats in last spring's semifinals.
This season, Maryland emerged as the dominant power in DI, an undisputed No. 1 as the only undefeated squad left in the land led by its eight seniors including two Tewaarton Award finalists in Schwarzmann and Alex Ault.
However, the Terps' ride has not come without a couple of scares.
Case in point: Friday night's semifinal. Syracuse had reeled off four unanswered scores while Maryland looked utterly out of sync. Eventually, the Terp seniors started running out ground balls, causing turnovers and helped settle around the Orange's cage as time ticked down in a 10-10 game.
Then there was Schwarzmann behind the goal, placing a perfect pass that Brooke Griffin converted into the go-ahead score with 2:51 left in a thrilling 11-10 triumph.
“They're such a special group,” Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. “I've talked about that a lot this year. They came in and fought hard when they didn't know any better their freshman year. This year, that group has really stepped up as leaders.
“They're motivated, they're excited. Most important, they're having fun. They're enjoying the experience and the journey they've been on.”
It is a journey that has seen the Terps' eight seniors win 86 games, the most of any four-year group within a program that has captured 10 NCAA championships.
On Sunday, they can captured an 11th against a North Carolina squad they have already defeated twice this season: 14-13 on April 6 and 12-8 in the ACC championship game on April 28.
“It's obviously going to be a hard-fought game,” Schwarzmann said. “Carolina is a great team. They are fast, they have many offensive weapons. We are going to have to put our best foot forward."
Maryland has succeeded all season, no matter the challenge, a credit to its class of eight seniors that will look to end their careers just as they began them: Hoisting the walnut and bronze trophy.
“We're really excited to have the opportunity to compete for a national championship on Sunday,” Reese said. “That's the position we wanted to put ourselves in.”