Last weekend was full of surprises for Coach Sue Tyler of the University of Maryland women's lacrosse team.
The first surprises came in Saturday's NCAA semifinal game against third-ranked Penn State. Her Terrapins, led by five goals by sophomore attacker Anysia Fedec, took an 11-7 lead with 9:02 left in regulation. Tyler got a jolt of a different sort with 24 seconds left in regulation when the Nittany Lions' Beth Stokes tied the game and forced overtime.
"I was surprised we were up by four, and then I was surprised we were not able to keep that margin," said Tyler, who has a 128-37-1 record in 11 seasons. "We should be able to keep it up there."
It should be no surprise, though, that the Terrapins will travel to the University of Pennsylvania for the championship game Sunday after beating Penn State, 12-11, on Wendy Beer's goal in sudden death. This is the sixth time in eight years the Terrapins have advanced to the final; they won in 1981.
"The tradition of winning makes it a little tougher because you know you have to work harder," said all-America attacker Kay Ruffino, who led the Terrapins with 48 goals and 28 assists. "But it is so much more exciting this year. The spirit on the team is just different."
Sunday's opponent is also somewhat of a shocker for Tyler, who watched New Hampshire upset defending champion Temple, 7-4, in Philadelphia last Sunday.
"I would have liked to play (Temple) again and beat them for revenge," Tyler said. The Owls beat Maryland in last year's final and in this year's regular-season opener.
"But I'm not underestimating New Hampshire, which is a much-improved team. They have the best athletes we've played against all year -- fast, enduring."
Maryland defeated New Hampshire, 14-9, early in the season when the Wildcats "had hardly been outside" to practice because of cold weather. New Hampshire is 10-3.
"Since this is the finals, we are not looking at them lightly," said senior defender Joan Rotoloni.
"The level (of adrenaline) wasn't as high when we played them before . . . We have to play them like they were Temple."
The Terrapins will try to keep the ball moving at all times in search of openings in the zone defense.
"Against a zone, we'll try to find a cutter in the middle," Tyler said. "We're pretty much untested against a zone, but I think we can handle the ball . . . we're tougher inside. There are a couple of things we'll do that I think will work."
The strategy has been revised from a year ago when Maryland relied heavily on its strong midfield to set up its offense and support an already talented defense.
Both strategies have paid off: the Terrapins finished 16-1-1 last season and are 15-1 this season. This year's offense, though, has produced a school-record 228 goals. The Terrapins no longer defend leads; they continue to attack.
"Last year we played not to lose," Rotoloni said. "This year we are playing to win."
The Terrapins are loaded offensively, with enough diversity to thwart opponents from keying on one player.
In addition to Ruffino and Fedec (38 goals, 21 assists), the Terrapins have all-America Karen Trudel (46, 22) and six other players who have scored in double figures.
"We have so much talent and everyone is scoring," Ruffino said. "And once we get ahead, we want more. We always want more."
With that strategy, the Terrapins hope to avoid any more surprises.