Maryland's MJ Leonard, left, and Michael Ehrhardt lead… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
In the end, Maryland's gritty postseason roll ended short of the goal.
After a regular season punctuated by resiliency and a postseason that included three victories over seeded opponents, the unseeded Terps dropped a 9-7 decision to seventh-seeded Virginia in the NCAA tournament final at M&T Bank Stadium Monday afternoon.
An announced crowd of 35,661 watched as Maryland's championship drought continued for another year. The program is 0-6 in title games since capturing its last crown in 1975.
The loss capped a roller-coaster year that began with the dismissal of coach Dave Cottle, and included the school's first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship since 2005, a loss to Colgate in the regular-season finale and NCAA tournament wins over No. 1 seed Syracuse, No. 5 seed Duke and No. 8 seed North Carolina.
The team also had to deal with the death of senior attackman Ryan Young's mother, Maria, who lost her four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
"We've had the highest highs and the lowest lows," Maryland senior defenseman Brett Schmidt said. "It [stinks] that we came up a little bit short today. We thought we had it; we thought we were going to come do it."
Instead it was Virginia — which also overcame its share of adversity to reach the championship game — that ended its season on top. The Cavaliers (13-5) captured the school's fifth national championship — the fourth under coach Dom Starsia. Virginia, which has won crowns in 1972, 1999, 2003 and 2006, became the lowest seeded team to claim the title.
"The fact that we are here right now is a credit to the team and my family and the people at Virginia," said Starsia, whose program has been dogged by tragedy (the deaths of former short-stick midfielder Will Barrow in 2008 and media relations assistant Michael Colley in 2009), scandal (the indictment of former midfielder George Huguely in the murder of women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love) and high-profile departures (the dismissal of senior midfielder Shamel Bratton and indefinite suspension of his twin, senior midfielder Rhamel Bratton).
"The game today epitomized the kind of season that we've had," Starsia continued. "That we started out well, put some goals in the second quarter when we got ahead a little bit and gave us some confidence going into the locker room. I am very proud of these guys and what they have done."
Maryland had few answers for the Cavaliers' zone defense or redshirt sophomore midfielder Colin Briggs, who was named the Most Outstanding Player after scoring a game-high five goals.
Necessitated by a season-ending shoulder injury to junior defenseman Matt Lovejoy in the teams' first meeting on April 2, Virginia employed a zone for the final eight contests — a stretch during which the Cavaliers went 6-2, including a five-game winning streak to end the season.
The Terps tried to attack the zone by putting two players on the crease in front of senior goalkeeper Adam Ghitelman (a game-high nine saves) and forcing the action inside. But several passes went astray, and senior attackman Ryan Young, junior midfielder Drew Snider and senior long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell each hit either the posts or crossbar.
"I think we got a lot of looks early," said senior attackman Grant Catalino, who paced Maryland with two goals and one assist. "Adam made a bunch of good saves, we hit a few pipes, missed a few shots. But I think we prepared pretty hard and we executed our game plan. It just seemed that the ball didn't roll our way today."
Coach John Tillman said trying to pass to the interior part of any opponent'a defense entails rewards and risks.
"You've got to give your guys some rope and let them make some plays. But you also want to be choosy and you want to be responsible," he said. "You know you're not going to be 100 percent, but you certainly hope you make a lot more good plays than bad plays. … Again, they're so rangy and athletic, it may seem like there's an opening, and then they take it away pretty quickly."
On the flipside, Schmidt limited junior attackman and Tewaaraton Award finalist Steele Stanwick to a single assist, but the defense was exploited by Briggs and sophomore attackman Nick O'Reilly.
O'Reilly, who was permitted to dodge around the cage at will, registered one goal and four assists, and two of his helpers went to Briggs, who had sat out Virginia's 14-8 defeat of No. 6 seed Denver in the semifinals on Saturday due to what was called a "coach's decision."
"I was definitely disappointed in myself, but I just thought to myself that I would come back, and I was able to get some opportunities," Briggs said.
Said Farrell: "He had fresh legs and torched me once. He was able to come around a couple of times. A couple of miscues on defense, and he ended up with five goals. He played a great game. Kudos to him."
Notes: The crowd was the smallest at a Division I title game since it was played in professional stadiums, which began in 2003. … Joining Briggs on the All-Tournament team were a trio of Maryland players in Catalino, Schmidt and sophomore faceoff specialist Curtis Holmes. The Cavaliers added Stanwick, Ghitelman, O'Reilly and senior defenseman Bray Malphrus. Denver freshman midfielder Jeremy Noble was the 10th player on the team. … Ravens coach John Harbaugh was in attendance.