Maryland-Northwestern women ready for showdown

Two storied programs to meet in Sunday's NCAA lacrosee final

  • Members of the Maryland women's lacrosse team celebrate at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium as the top-seeded Terps beat Syracuse, 14-5, to advance to the NCAA Division I tournament championship game.
Members of the Maryland women's lacrosse team celebrate… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
May 30, 2010

The showdown is here — No. 1 Maryland vs. No. 2 Northwestern for the NCAA women's Division I lacrosse championship.

When the teams square off at 5:30 p.m. today at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium in their first meeting since 2007, they bring much more than their top rankings. They have 15 national titles between them, including 13 of the past 18.

Maryland (21-1) has twice as many championships with 10 (one before the NCAA took over the tournament), but the Wildcats (20-1) have all the momentum. They come in as the five-time defending champions. The Terrapins have a record seven straight crowns, but they haven't won since 2001, the last year of that streak.

Each team suffered its only loss to North Carolina and each has avenged that loss, the Wildcats 15-10 in Friday's semifinal and the Terps 10-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference final. Now it's just between them.

"For a lot of people, I think, having the two most successful programs in women's lacrosse meeting is phenomenal," said Sheehan Stanwick Burch, women's lacrosse analyst for CBS College Sports Network. "Both teams are so athletic, so talented and really strong defensively. I was very impressed with the Maryland defense [in the semifinal win over Syracuse] and it should be a good matchup, although with Northwestern, you always have the chance for it to be a blowout when they have their people firing on all cylinders."

While these Wildcats know what the streak means to their program, the current Terps, most of whom were 11 or 12 when Maryland capped off its streak, have some sense of what those seven in a row mean to their program.

"We don't feel pressure, we feel honored and we want to bring it back to College Park," Terps sophomore Karri Ellen Johnson said. "There's so much history and tradition in the Maryland program. [Coach Cathy Reese] was telling us that there are people flying in to see the game and she's been flooded with e-mails. It's really cool."

These Terps are hungry for a title all their own, especially after losing their only game of last season to North Carolina, 8-7, in the national semifinals.

Wildcats coach Kelly Amonte Hiller understands the Terps' motivation. She had the same drive when she was a player at Maryland. Her teams lost in the semifinals and then in the final before starting the seven-year run in her junior year, 1995.

"They lost last year in the final four and I know as a player how that hurts," Amonte Hiller said. "You want to come back. You're much more motivated and focused and I think they've shown that this year in winning the ACC championship and doing a great job to get to this championship as well."

On the other hand, Reese, a Terps teammate of Amonte Hiller for two years, can identify with the Wildcats' motivation, because Reese won national titles all four years.

"I think they have a lot of confidence, at least that's how it was in my day," Reese said. "They've been there before. We haven't competed in a national championship game with any of these players on our team. The Northwestern players have all had that experience and that helps them through a lot of these games."

In Friday's semifinals, both teams were pushed but finished strong. Unseeded Syracuse scored three straight to pull within three goals before the Terps reeled off six goals to win 14-5. North Carolina, the No. 3 seed, pulled within one on Northwestern with 15:49 to go, but five players scored to end the game on a 5-1 Wildcats' run.

One of the more intriguing matchups may come between two Tewaaraton Trophy finalists, Maryland midfielder Caitlyn McFadden and Northwestern attacker Katrina Dowd. In addition to scoring a lot of goals and winning balls in the midfield, McFadden often marks the opposition's leading scorer, and Dowd, a flashy player with slick moves and tricky shots, is the catalyst of an offense averaging 16.9 goals per game.

For Maryland, defense will be a key factor, but the entire unit and goalie Brittany Dipper have really been stingy since giving up a season-high 13 goals in the loss to North Carolina. Since then, they have allowed only 5.1 goals per game.

With the marquee matchup, officials are hoping they might improve on Friday night's record announced crowd of 8,762 — the largest audience ever for a women's lacrosse game in the United States.

"This is so exciting for the game," Burch said. "All these players understand how special it is to be here. Even the Northwestern players who have won so many times realize it's not that easy to get to the final game. … It should be a great matchup."

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