By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 31, 2010; D01
TOWSON, MD. -- The sun had already set, but Maryland women's lacrosse Coach Cathy Reese pulled her sunglasses over her eyes. She tried to hide her tears. Reese returned to her alma mater four years ago to bring the once-dominant program back to the national championship game, where Maryland alumna Kelly Amonte Hiller had led Northwestern as an annual rite of spring.
In those fleeting moments after Reese watched top-seeded Maryland once again hoist the national championship trophy following Sunday's 13-11 win over second-seeded Northwestern, she did not know what to do.
She experienced the feeling four times as a player and three times as an assistant as part of Maryland's championship reign from 1995 to 2001, although she was never humbled by watching anyone else win.
"That's all I knew at Maryland. I knew how to win," Reese said. "And now, coming here, we came in, the first two years here we lost in the second round. For me now as a coach, I think it was harder for us to get ourselves up there."
She earned Maryland's record 10th NCAA title with a senior class that arrived in College Park along with her and against Amonte Hiller, her former teammate who had led Northwestern to the past five national championships.
The two schools appeared destined to meet last season when both finished the regular season undefeated, although Maryland was upset in the semifinals. Their meeting this season allowed for the two programs with the most impressive dynasties in women's lacrosse to finally play on the sport's grandest stage.
A record crowd of 9,782 came to Johnny Unitas Stadium to watch. Most were Maryland fans, responding to the officials' whistles as if it were a basketball game against Duke.
"There was a lot of red in the stands," Northwestern senior Danielle Spencer said. "We expected that going into it."
Northwestern appeared poised to quiet that crowd, jumping to a 6-0 lead and extending the margin to 8-3. A Maryland surge allowed the Terrapins to tie the score before halftime, ending 30 minutes that included a potpourri of penalties.
There were 45 combined first-half fouls, forcing the game's disposition to become whistles and explanations. Sixty-five minutes elapsed between the beginning and end of the half. Sixteen goals were scored, and two were disallowed.
Maryland returned inspired in the second half, solidifying its defense and capitalizing on offensive opportunities. Senior Caitlyn McFadden scored 3 minutes 33 seconds into the half to give the Terrapins a 9-8 lead, and they never trailed thereafter.
Northwestern tied the score at 10, at which point McFadden again took over. She assisted on the 11th goal, scored the much-needed 12th goal and helped defend Wildcats star Katrina Dowd, who was held without a goal for the first time this season.
McFadden was named the tournament's most outstanding player.
"I think when the clock hit zero, I just ran right into the pile with my teammates," said McFadden, who had two goals and an assist in her final collegiate game. "And after that, I couldn't stop smiling. I didn't even have any words or anything to say."
Maryland fans remained in the bleachers after the game, together chanting, "We're number one! We're number one!" Eight full seasons elapsed since Maryland fans could make that claim -- years that mostly belonged to Northwestern -- but at last, it was true.
Now, the challenge is remaining No. 1. Amonte Hiller said it's more difficult to stay at the top than it is to reach the top, and she said understanding the importance of "every practice, every possession, every play" matters in a setting like the Sunday's.
It's something Reese witnessed as a player and as an assistant. Even with sunglasses guarding her tears, she now appreciates how difficult it is to reach the top. At this time next year, she hopes she can answer what it's like to stay there.
"We went a step further and were able to win the national championship, and we've learned a lot about ourselves as a team and what we need to do to be successful," Reese said. "We're going to continue to build on it. Take some time to enjoy this and let it soak in, and then get back to work."