Maryland women's lacrosse looks to make up for last year's NCAA Final Four stumble
Friday, May 28, 2010
The hotel will be different for the Maryland women's lacrosse team when it takes another trip north to Towson, Md., for the national semifinals, and it will not be graduation weekend in College Park for the seniors.
Otherwise, there are few tangible differences between the top-seeded Terrapins' preparations for Friday's game against Syracuse and last season's final weekend, which they entered as an undefeated No. 2 seed, only to lose by one goal in the national semifinals.
"I wish I knew what the answer was," Coach Cathy Reese said. "The reality is you get to the Final Four, and they're great games. I don't think there's a reason to set us apart for why we lost."
The most important distinction between this season's team and last season's team, though, is the experience the group has developed since concluding its season prematurely at Johnny Unitas Stadium last May. The Terrapins entered 2009 with few expectations yet romped to an unblemished regular season before losing to North Carolina in the Final Four, thwarting an anticipated national championship matchup against top-seeded Northwestern.
"I know last year, after the game, we were like, 'What just happened?' " senior midfielder Caitlyn McFadden said. That team relied heavily on its junior class, and there were no seniors in the starting lineup. With almost every major contributor returning, a return to Towson was practically required, and advancing to the national championship is almost expected.
Maryland enters Friday's game 20-1, with its lone hiccup coming against -- of all teams -- North Carolina. The third-seeded Tar Heels play second-seeded Northwestern, which has won the past five national championships, in the other semifinal.
Reese became the Terrapins' coach in 2007, returning to the program with which she won national championships in each of her four seasons as a player from 1995 to 1998. Those four triumphs were the first of seven consecutive national championships, but Maryland failed to reach the national semifinals in the five seasons before Reese's arrival.
Reese inherited a recruiting class that included McFadden and senior defender Karrisa Taylor, both of whom became all-Americans.
"They were my babies when I took over the job here and started," said Reese, who has developed a kinship with the group during her four seasons. Yet the seniors have yet to experience the elation Reese felt at the end of each season as a player, so the recruiting class that resurrected the program has a clearly defined goal.
"It's a memory I would love this team to leave with," Reese said. "I look back on it and say, 'Which national championship was the most memorable for me?' And for whatever reason that may be, I want them to be able to say the same things when they graduate. So, 10 years from now, these seniors can look back and say, 'In 2010, we did this and this, and that's what wrapped this season up and made it super special.' "
The Terrapins have worked with a sports psychologist to hone their mental toughness, an important attribute when dealing with the internal pressure of being the nation's top team. Taylor said the work with the psychologist prompted a "different vibe" on the team and is evident in the way they played this season, specifically with handling pressure and trusting one another.
"This is one of the most talented teams I've seen come through Maryland in the years I've been a part of it, but there's that X-factor, that mental toughness, that we have definitely shown," said assistant coach Quinn Carney, who won four national championships as a player from 1998 to 2001. "With some more of that, we're going to do well this weekend."
Carney thinks the loss last season helped in developing that toughness. She said the group displayed a "grit" as a result of the emptiness felt in Towson in 2009, instilling resolve in seniors hardened by what happened. Now they have only one weekend left to make up for it.
"Since we've been there before, we don't want to end the way we did last year," Taylor said. "Going in with that confidence and knowing I don't want to walk away like I did last year, and knowing I want to go the whole way if possible, that confidence in myself and my teammates is different than what it was last year."