Last Sunday, UMBC seniors Andy Gallagher and Drew Westervelt were hoping, and praying, that the lords of lacrosse would allow them to play at least one more game together in the NCAA Division I tournament.
"It was not a good time, not a good time at all," said Gallagher, still shaking his head in disbelief. "I was just hoping that the committee saw we were playing well, 6-1 in the last seven games. We took Albany, a very good team, to a one-goal game. I was hoping they knew we were playing very good lacrosse, and we could continue to play that way in the tournament."
The Retrievers (10-5) were awarded a second life, and possibly a gift, because they'll be playing Maryland (10-5) on Sunday night at Byrd Stadium in the opening round. Playing a team that has beaten you 24 out of the past 28 meetings might not be a consolation for some folks, but UMBC doesn't mind playing the big-sister school at all.
About five weeks ago, Maryland beat UMBC, 11-7, in College Park. The Retrievers aren't talking about payback or revenge, but they believe they can make a better showing and pull the upset. And Maryland coach Dave Cottle thinks he'll see a better UMBC, too.
When the teams played March 17, the Retrievers tried to generate their offense from the midfield. Since then, the offense has been rebuilt around Gallagher (32 goals, 14 assists), Westervelt (31, 33) and freshman attackman Cayle Ratcliffe (37, 7). If the Terps can stop Gallagher and Westervelt, they should win.
"First of all, they have three guys with over 30 goals, and we have nobody with over 30," Cottle said. "Drew has great feeding ability and has developed into a very good offensive player. The thing we respect about Andy is his toughness and willingness to hustle. He has been phenomenal in their extra-man offense. Ratcliffe fits what they needed. He doesn't need the ball in his stick to be good. Give them credit, they have improved, especially in the transition game with their attack."
Gallagher said: "You can't make excuses. You try to go out and win every game. I don't think we played well that game. We didn't know if we were going to play because of the weather, and we didn't get off to a good start. We didn't play well as a team and made some really bad mistakes. We're playing better now. I'm anxious to play and I like who we're matched up against."
Don't take this as trash-talking. The Retrievers have a great deal of respect for the Terps and their physical style of defense. But let's be honest. Overall, Maryland has bigger, stronger and faster players. But of the 172 goals scored by UMBC this season, 100 have come from Westervelt, Gallagher and Ratcliffe.
UMBC coach Don Zimmerman made the adjustment of allowing the attack to jump-start his offense right after the Maryland game.
"It was a good move by the coach," Ratcliffe said. "When those two [Westervelt and Gallagher] take control of the ball, they can be the deciding factors of the game. They have so much leadership and experience, and getting them the ball is suited best for our team."
The UMBC attack is a strange-looking trio. Westervelt, from John Carroll High, is 6 feet 4. Ratcliffe, whose nickname is "Tugboat," is only 5-8, but weighs 230 pounds. Westervelt is the designated passer and leader in assists.
"The first time I saw him [Westervelt], I thought, `What a tall drink of water he is,'" Gallagher said. "That's why he passes the ball so well. It's the rare air up there, and it allows him to see the field so well."
Gallagher is the team tough guy. He's had two major knee operations and will attempt to gut out another knee injury Sunday night. He might require another surgery after the season, but until then, he's the best outside shooter of the three.
Ratcliffe is the ultimate crease attackman. He is big and strong. Nobody is going to move him in the middle. He is from Victoria, British Columbia, and played box lacrosse. With that body and that background, you know there is one thing he excels at and that's finishing goals.
"He is slick on the inside," Westervelt said of Ratcliffe. "Once he started playing a little bit, we connected. We found out where each other likes to be and started scoring goals."
Ratcliffe didn't become a starter until the fourth game of the season while Westervelt and Gallagher have started together for the past three seasons. As the underclassman, Ratcliffe gets harassed the most by the other two. They're roommates on the road, and Ratcliffe always had to sleep on the cot.
On bus rides, the Retrievers often get a choice between turkey and tuna fish sandwiches. The tuna sandwiches are usually soggy, and end up on Ratcliffe's plate. He also has another responsibility - cleaning the bus with other freshmen.
"That's what I liked about the school during my visit," Ratcliffe said. "There was a bonding here. The upperclassmen take you under their wings. There isn't hazing, but they teach you the ropes."