Maryland set the stage perfectly to bring the NCAA women's lacrosse championship back to College Park for the first time since 2001. The Terrapins came in as the No. 1 seed, boasted the stingiest defense in the tournament and, being so close to their home turf in Towson, drew a mostly partisan crowd of red-clad fans.
Facing five-time defending champion Northwestern, however, the Terrapins found themselves in a battle from the start as the No. 2-seeded Wildcats scored the first six goals. Once the Terps banished the jitters and got used to facing into the sun, they reigned all over Northwestern's title streak.
Maryland rallied to tie the game just before the half and scored three of the last four goals, including Caitlyn McFadden's game winner with 5:47 left, for a 13-11 victory and the program's 11th national crown before an announced record crowd of 9,782 at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium
The Terps (22-1) also quashed Northwestern's drive to match its record streak of seven women's titles between 1995 and 2001.
The Wildcats (20-2) put six of their first eight shots past Terps goalie Brittany Dipper, but Maryland was undaunted by that and by having two goals called back in the first 17 minutes of the game.
"We were allowing shots to go right in front of the cage which gives Dipper absolutely no chance, especially with the sun," defender Brittany Poist said. "During that time, I was thinking what the rest of our teams was thinking, 'We have to chip away one at a time. It's nothing to be negative about.'"
Even though the Wildcats were capable of winning draws and maintaining possession for long periods, they knew a 6-0 lead wasn't good enough.
"As you go down the stretch and you play teams like Maryland," Northwestern's Danielle Spencer said. "You're not going to put any team away in the first half. Even if it was 15-0 in the first half, I don't think we would have put them away. It's got to be a full 60 minutes and I think we got a little casual when we were up 6-0 and they made us pay."
Once the defense adjusted and put more pressure on the shooters, Dipper started making saves, which helped the offense maintain some momentum once it got started with freshman Katie Schwarzmann's goal with 18:49 left.
Maryland's mostly unheralded defensive players — Dipper, Poist, Karissa Taylor, and Abby Caso — along with key contributions from the midfield, held the Wildcats without a goal for more than 27 minutes, including the last 15:12 of the first half.
The Terps, especially tournament Most Outstanding Player McFadden and Poist, held the NCAA tournament's all-time leading goal scorer, senior Katrina Dowd, without a goal.
Northwestern took an 8-3 lead on back-to-back free-position goals midway through the first half, but Maryland scored five straight, including two each from Schwarzmann and Sarah Mollison, to tie at 8 going into the half.
With about 15 seconds left in the half, Dipper made her fifth save of the half against Dowd, who was tightly defended in the arc — a terrific stop that kept the Wildcats from taking any spark into the half.
After the break, Maryland took its first lead, 9-8, on McFadden's free-position, the Terps sixth straight goal in the last 15:23. Brandi Jones boosted the lead to 10-8 before Shannon Smith, who led the Wildcats with three goals, tied it with 12:03 to go.
After Northwestern won the next draw, Smith took two shots, one blocked by a defender and the other saved by Dipper. After the save, the Terps set off in transition and McFadden fed Jones for an 11-10 edge with 9:51 left.
McFadden's game winner was matched by Spencer's goal with 2:57 left to pull the Wildcats within 12-11, but the Terps Iliana Sanza won the next draw and Karri Ellen Johnson converted an insurance goal assisted by Mollison with 2:03 to go.
"It meant so much to me. I'm so excited," McFadden said. "I think when the clock hit zero I just ran right into the pile of my teammates. I just couldn't stop smiling. I didn't have any words or anything to say. I was so excited for our team and so proud of the heart we showed tonight."
McFadden, a Tewaaraton Award finalist, had two goals and an assist as did Jones. Mollison, Johnson and Schwarzmann scored three goals each and Dipper finished with seven saves.
Northwestern 8 3 — 11
Maryland 8 5 — 13
Goals: N—Smith 3, Spencer 2, Fitzgerald 2, Frank, Matthews, Thornton, Macaluso; M—Mollison 3, Schwarzmann 3, Johnson 3, Bra.Jones 2, McFadden 2. Assists: N—Dowd, Smith, Spencer; M—Mollison, Bra.Jones, McFadden. Saves: N—LoManto 6; M—Dipper 7.