Today's goal: Stick around

Terps look to reverse trend of missing final

Lacrosse Final Four


Philadelphia -- Three years ago, when he was a backup midfielder waiting his turn in the team's pecking order, University of Maryland senior Bill McGlone witnessed his first NCAA tournament final four debacle. Virginia drilled the Terrapins, 14-4, before a huge crowd at M&T Bank Stadium, then went on to win its third national championship.

Last year, McGlone had a direct hand in helping Maryland overcome a 5-5 start by reaching another final four, this time at Lincoln Financial Field. There, McGlone went through a painfully familiar experience, as Duke jumped all over the Terps early, then cruised to an 18-9 rout in the semifinals.

Today at the place known as "The Linc," McGlone and the rest of Maryland's seniors have no more wiggle room, as the second-seeded Terps try to dispose of unseeded Massachusetts (12-4) and do what no Maryland team has done since 1998 - get to the NCAA title game on Memorial Day.

Maryland (12-4) has not won a national championship since 1975. Since then, the Terps have lost in the title game five times, including three defeats in a four-year span beginning in 1995.

The sense of urgency, fueled in part by those unpleasant holiday-weekend memories, has been weighing on McGlone, as it has for other seniors, starting with attackman Joe Walters and midfielders Brendan Healy and Xander Ritz. That foursome has produced two-thirds of Maryland's 259 points this season.

"You realize how special it is to have this opportunity. This whole year has been different," said McGlone, who has 11 goals and seven assists during Maryland's current 6-1 run. "You realize a lot more things. You pay more attention. Everything is much more magnified - film, weights, scouting, everything.

"To go out the way we've gone out in our past two final fours, it's a huge letdown. It's such an honor to walk out on the field and see 45,000 people. And we didn't even give those people any entertainment."

Everybody playing this weekend has some pain to draw upon, as they pursue the game's biggest prize. Massachusetts endured 12 losses in the quarterfinals dating to 1976, and its senior class swallowed a 13-7 loss to Maryland in 2003, and last year's 19-9 stomping at Johns Hopkins.

Syracuse is, strangely, a comeback story. After 22 straight final four trips, which yielded nine national championships, the Orange missed last spring's holiday weekend after dropping a first-round playoff game to UMass. Then, with injuries ravaging it early this season, Syracuse stumbled to a 1-4 start but hasn't lost since March 28.

Virginia has come full circle. The Cavaliers edged Johns Hopkins for the NCAA crown in 2003, when senior stars such as Matt Ward, Matt Poskay and Michael Culver were freshmen. The next year, the Cavaliers didn't make the tournament, while tumbling to a 5-8 finish. Last year, they failed to hold an 8-7 lead in the quarterfinals with 12 seconds left in regulation, before losing to Hopkins in overtime.

"You go to college to learn, and my lacrosse career has certainly been a learning experience," Culver said. "I was a mess after that [Hopkins] game. I couldn't sleep until I forced myself to sit down and watch the game [on tape]. I feel like the juxtaposition of my first two years here definitely built the framework for two more successful years."

Walters sounds like a spokesman for a team that appears to have been galvanized by its past failures. Since whipping Hopkins on its home field, 11-4, on April 15, the Terps have found another gear, particularly on offense. They have averaged 13 goals in their past six victories. An 11-5 loss to Virginia in the ACC tournament final is the only blemish over the past seven weeks.

Walters smells something great about to happen this weekend.

"Last year, we were just happy to be at the Linc. [Getting to] the final four isn't enough this time," he said. "Ever since the Hopkins game, we've really started to play complete lacrosse. The seniors on offense are managing the game, and guys are making plays at the right time.

"I strongly believe if we play the type of game [today] we've been playing the last few weeks, we'll be there on Monday. This [UMass] game is first, I think we know that. We've set it up nicely. We're in the right spot."

Fifth-year Terps coach Dave Cottle, who has led Loyola and Maryland to a combined 18 NCAA tournaments, but has made only one appearance (1990) in the title game, also senses the Terps aren't done yet.

"It's important for us to come out strong [today]. We've got four dominant players at the offensive end, all seniors, and we just won a game against Princeton [11-6] with Joe Walters and Bill McGlone shooting 2-for-18," Cottle said.

"I know last year we thought we had done a really good job getting here after starting 5-5. I think this is the best team we've brought to the final four."

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