When the Maryland and Virginia men's lacrosse teams pack up their equipment and leave M&T Bank Stadium on Monday evening, only one will have left its baggage behind.
The NCAA tournament final between the unseeded Terps and the seventh-seeded Cavaliers pits a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference rivals eager to conclude their arduous seasons on a winning note.
"It's not every year that a senior class gets the opportunity to play on Memorial Day weekend for the championship," Maryland senior attackman Grant Catalino said. "There's a lot of guys that wish they could be in our spot, but they're out in the stands cheering us on. They're supporting us, and they've supported us all year. It'd be awesome to go out as a senior and win it, and it would kind of be a tribute to the players that played here before us."
Said Virginia junior long-stick midfielder Chris Clements (St. Paul's): "I think it would be a great accomplishment. We've definitely been through an up-and-down season. It would definitely be a great experience for us to reap the benefits of what we did."
Both programs have endured tough seasons in 2011. The Cavaliers (12-5) have suspended four starters a total of five times, and first-team All-America midfielder Shamel Bratton was dismissed from the team before its regular-season finale against Penn on April 30.
Virginia's 14-8 thumping of No. 6 seed Denver on Saturday ensured the program's first trip to the title game in four consecutive attempts, and the school is looking for its first national championship since 2006.
"In some ways, it's so unlikely that we're here today," said Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia, who is Division I's all-time leader in coaching wins. "The fact that we're in the final weekend for the fourth year in a row, this feels vastly different than the previous couple of years. I'm really proud of these guys, and it's been quite a journey to get here. So we're just really grateful that we have this opportunity, and we look forward to playing this thing. I'm closer to the end of my career rather than the beginning, but this is still very special."
The Terps (13-4) suffered a different kind of loss when Maria Young, the mother of senior attackman Ryan Young, died April 17 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
Before Young's death, she directed coach John Tillman to help her son claim ACC and NCAA crowns. Maryland is one step away from making her wish a reality, but it's not something Ryan Young has harped on.
"He's a hard guy to read," Tillman said. "He's kept a lot of this whole thing close to the vest. He doesn't show a lot of emotion and he doesn't like to talk about a lot of that stuff, and I certainly don't pry."
In addition to Virginia, however, Maryland might be fighting another opponent: history.
The Terps, who have two NCAA championships to their name, haven't won one since 1975. Since defeating Navy, 20-13, that year, Maryland has gone 0-5 in the title game.
But senior short-stick defensive midfielder Dan Burns (Severna Park) said the team hasn't saddled itself with the program's previous unsuccessful attempts.
"We don't really think of it like that," he said. "There's been years past, but we always say that this is the 2011 Maryland team. Yeah, we've had some guys from years past with a lot of experience, but this team is unique this year. We have a lot of guys making personal sacrifices for the team, and I feel like we're not trying to mimic that team, but we feel like over the years, we've sort of instilled an identity at Maryland, and we feel like this year, we've really held that to a T and are really playing well as a team at the best time of the year."
There are several direct links between the 1975 Terps squad and the current team. The fathers of senior long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell (Boys' Latin), senior attackman Travis Reed (Boys' Latin) and director of operations Brian Phipps (Severn) played in 1975 and are in frequent touch with the current players.
Maryland senior defenseman Brett Schmidt said the players hear from the alumni on a consistent basis and understand the significance of a win Monday.
"We always hear it from them, and we just want to do this for our past alumni and everyone that's been involved in this program over time," Schmidt said. "We're going to come out tomorrow and play with the Maryland toughness that has been a tradition here."
NCAA men's Division I final
Maryland vs. No. 7 seed Virginia
TIME: Monday, 3:30 p.m.
SITE: M&T Bank Stadium
Coach: John Tillman
Leading scorer: Senior attackman Ryan Young (19 goals, 28 assists)
Goalie: Redshirt freshman Niko Amato (6.64 goals-against average, .590 save percentage)
Coach: Dom Starsia
Leading scorer: Junior attackman Steele Stanwick (32 goals, 37 assists)
Goalie: Senior Adam Ghitelman (9.70 goals-against average, .533 save percentage)