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Roger Moore | | May 25, 2014

Moore: Lacrosse is king in Maryland

  Sixty-seven percent of the time at team from Maryland plays in championship match.

BALTIMORE -- How good has the state of Maryland been in men's lacrosse?

Of the 43 NCAA championships held since 1971, 29 times a school from Maryland has played in the title game. That means 67 percent of the time -- almost seven out of every 10 years -- a school from the Free State has played in the last game of the season. The longest stretch without a Maryland school in the final is from 1999 to 2002.

Five times, two schools from the state have met in the final game, including 2012 when Loyola (Md.) beat Maryland for gold.

The Terps are no strangers to the final, playing in 10 championship games with titles in 1971, '73 and '75. They carry the banner again in 2014, welcoming Notre Dame, Denver, and Duke for the 2014 Men's Division I Lacrosse Championship.

Johns Hopkins is considered lacrosse royalty. The Blue Jays have hoisted the trophy nine times and played in 18 finals. Duke edged the 'Jays in last weekend's quarterfinals.

Where else would you expect the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame to be located. … It sits on Hopkins' Baltimore campus, of course.

Anybody else from the state whose state bird is the Baltimore Oriole? The Naval Academy from Annapolis lost to Syracuse in the 2004 NCAA final and to Maryland in the 1975 title contest. Towson fell to North Carolina in the 1991 championship game.

This weekend marks the 16th time the state of Maryland has hosted the men's championship. The biggest show in men's lacrosse returns for 2014, and as you might have guessed, a school from Maryland is among the final four. The Terps (13-3) face off against Notre Dame (11-5) in one semifinal with defending champion Duke (15-3) taking on Denver (16-2) in the other game at M&T Bank Stadium.

So, what gives? Is there a creation myth? Was there a moment when a sport not in the national spotlight became Maryland's dearly beloved?

"The thing that is unique about lacrosse in Maryland is that is such a part of the fabric of the culture," Maryland head coach John Tillman said, who also coached at the Naval Academy as an assistant for 10 seasons. "When you grow up almost every high school has it; it is so much a part of the history. It is emphasized like football in Texas, Florida or Ohio. Here it is lacrosse and it's really special to be a part of a place that generation after generation you are handed a stick and learn to play the game.

"And to have the national championships here. … it's an added bonus because the support the sport draws will be showcased this weekend."

"I just started playing because my neighbors did," Terp defender Brian Cooper said, a native of Crofton, Maryland. "It was a thing where everybody around me was playing, so I picked it up and really started to enjoy it.

"High-school lacrosse is very competitive [in Maryland]. Almost every game you play, especially where I am from, there are probably 10 or 15 guys capable of playing college lacrosse at some level. The fact that it is so competitive in high school means you are going to see a lot of players come out of here."

Chris Hampton, Denver's face-off man, is a native of Bethesda, Maryland.

"I was into football and baseball; my dad played rugby," Hampton said. "I picked up a lacrosse stick in third grade and fell in love with the physicality of it. You are always told when you are a kid that you can't hit people with a stick, but in lacrosse."

He headed west. … way west. … to the state of Colorado, not necessarily lacrosse crazy.

"I think we have the best fan base in the country," Hampton added. "It is really blowing up right now. Our student section keeps getting bigger. I came out here and fell in love with this place. After our games, you see kids lined up forever to get autographs; it's growing at the youth level. That's why lacrosse is big back home, everybody starts playing at such an early age."

The pied piper in Colorado is Bill Tierney, a legendary coach who brought six national titles to Princeton. Under his guidance, the Pioneers have advanced to three NCAA semifinals in four seasons. Tierney recruits nationwide, but always keeps an eye out for Maryland talent.

"It's kind of like asking why the great Husky dogs are more so in Alaska because of the Iditarod," Tierney said. "Lacrosse, for all intents and purposes, is centered in Maryland. I grew up on Long Island and we like to claim we are the best, you know, invented the game. But Baltimore, the state of Maryland, has really been a place that has helped build our sport; there is a passion here, an excitement."

Denver is not the only roster that includes Maryland natives. Two of Duke's top midfielders, Baltimore natives Deemer Class (Loyola Blakefield) and Christian Walsh (Deerfield Academy), are key cogs in the Blue Devil attack. Notre Dame's Connor Doyle is from Towson's Gilman School.

"I've never really thought about it, I don't know," Walsh said. "My grandfather was an All-American at Maryland, so I picked up a stick when I was three or four years old. I played other sports, but lacrosse became my favorite pretty quick.

"The local schools in Baltimore really stress lacrosse; it is a big part of the athletic programs. In the south, it's football, here it's definitely lacrosse."

Playing in front of knowledgeable fans, and family, is an added bonus.

"Big crowds, that's always nice," Walsh said. "Even though we will get booed. … Duke gets booed no matter where they go and no matter what sport. … the environment should be pretty good this weekend. It's awesome to be able to come home and play for a national championship."

The NCAA semifinals will be played at the home of the Baltimore Ravens, a lacrosse pass from Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles. Less than an hour away, D.C. United of Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals play games. It can be argued that lacrosse is a combination of all of the above.

Asked why he plays lacrosse, Maryland sophomore Jay Carlson answers, "I thought it was the most action-packed game; I thought baseball was a little slow. I like [lacrosse] because it is a combination of everything. A lot of lacrosse players played football, basketball, and soccer in high school so you see a lot of really good athletes.

"In Maryland, lacrosse is a big deal." 

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