Members of the Maryland women's lacrosse team celebrate… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
If you were there, you saw one of the best women's college lacrosse games you'll ever see.
You saw two heavyweights, top seed Maryland and No. 2 seed Northwestern, play a thrilling back-and-forth game in front of an announced record crowd of 9,782 at sun-drenched Johnny Unitas Stadium on the campus of Towson University.
You were part of the biggest crowd ever to watch a women's lacrosse game in the U.S. And when it was all over, you saw gritty Maryland survive an atrocious start to outlast Northwestern, 13-11, and win the NCAA Division I championship.
It was the 10th NCAA title for the Terrapins, who finished the season with a record of 22-1. And the Terps were so buoyant after this magnificent comeback win that they carried the national championship trophy into the post-game news conference.
Think the New Orleans Saints dragged along the Lombardi Trophy when they met reporters after their Super Bowl win?
Not a chance.
No, this was a special night for Maryland, which hadn't won the championship since 2001. And beating Northwestern, the team that had won the national title the past five years, made it even more special.
"I'm just soaking it all in," said Cathy Reese, Maryland's fourth-year coach. "What an amazing night for the Terps. I'm so proud of this team. The heart and soul they showed was outstanding."
But the win sure didn't come easily, not when you consider the Terps were down 6-0 before freshman midfielder Katie Schwarzmann (Century) scored their first goal with 18:49 remaining in the first half.
"In the first half, we struggled defensively as a team," Reese said. "It felt like every shot they took was going in the first nine minutes of the game."
But from that point on, Maryland played like a different team.
Junior attacker Sarah Mollison scored with 17:14 remaining to cut the Wildcats' lead to 6-2. And less than two minutes later, sophomore attacker Karri Ellen Johnson, Maryland's leading scorer, made it 6-3 with her 67th goal of the season.
All of a sudden, the Wildcats knew they were in a game again.
"I didn't think the game was over for one second when we were up 6-0," Northwestern senior midfielder Danielle Spencer said.
Neither did the Terps, who went on to score five more goals to tie the score at 8 at halftime.
"After the 6-0 run, we never gave up," said Maryland senior midfielder Caitlyn McFadden, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player and two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.
Helping the Terps, of course, was the crowd.
This was practically a home game for Maryland, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by the Northwestern players.
Again and again, Maryland seemed to feed off the noise and energy in the place, especially in the first half.
The Wildcats' best player, senior attacker Katrina Dowd, marveled at the big-game atmosphere.
"You could tell it was a huge crowd," she said. "Lot of red there."
It wasn't a game for wimps, either, not with 45 fouls in the first half alone.
But when they went into the locker room at halftime with the score tied, the Terps knew all the momentum in the game had shifted to their side.
And they couldn't wait for the second half to begin.
"We said, 'We'll just pretend we're six goals down again and play like that,' " Mollison said.
And they did.
McFadden's goal off the free position with 26:27 remaining gave Maryland its first lead of the game, 9-8. It was the sixth unanswered goal the Terps had scored in 15 minutes. And when junior midfielder Brandi Jones scored with 19:57 remaining to make it 10-8 Terps, the noise coming from the Maryland fans was an unearthly din.
It didn't hurt that Dowd was sidelined with a leg injury for part of Maryland's stretch run.
And it sure didn't hurt that Maryland's sophomore goalie, Brittany Dipper, came up big in the second half, finishing with seven saves after her shaky performance to start the game.
"She's a great goalie," Spencer said. "She's not going to give up down 6-0. You could definitely tell she was gaining confidence as the game went on."
What a contrast it was Sunday night, seeing the teary-eyed Northwestern players in their post-game news conference, followed by the Maryland players with their radiant smiles and their gleaming new national championship trophy.
It was a great game and a great crowd.
A great day for the state of Maryland, too.
And for Maryland's national women's lacrosse champs, it was exactly the day they had waited for all season.
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