Terps, Wildcats playing in national semifinals for third straight year
Graduating six players with a total of 16 years of starting experience didn't bode well for the prospects of the Maryland women's lacrosse team. But the Terrapins are back in the NCAA semifinals against a familiar foe, defending champion Northwestern.
Third-seeded Maryland (19-3) takes on second-seeded Northwestern (19-2) in a clash of the two most decorated teams in NCAA history Friday night in Stony Brook, N.Y. The Terps have won 10 national titles to six for the Wildcats.
Their rivalry has grown in recent seasons. When Maryland beat Northwestern in the 2010 title game, it ended the Wildcats' streak of five straight titles. Last year, Northwestern used stalling tactics to slow the uptempo attack of Maryland in an 8-7 victory in the finals.
"Our players that played in last year's championship left the field feeling there was more to be done," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said.
But many of those players have graduated, leaving retribution up to a younger cast that includes four freshman starters. While reaching the Final Four often has been routine for Maryland, getting there this year demonstrates the staying power of the program under Reese.
"We're younger, less experienced, but I think we're just as talented," Maryland's Karri Ellen Johnson said.
Graduating All-American feeder Sarah Mollison was a blow for the Maryland offense. But junior Alex Aust (44 goals, 52 assists) has set up finishers Johnson (53 goals) and Katie Schwarzmann (69 goals). As she warmed to the role, the Terps have improved. After losing regular-season games to Duke and North Carolina, Maryland avenged both defeats in convincing fashion in the ACC tournament last month.
"She really got confident and realized how awesome she is," Johnson said. "She has an incredible first step."
Northwestern has had no such transition this year. The talent overload is such that some of last year's starters were forced into lesser roles this year by newcomers. It's a stark contrast to Maryland.
"These young 'uns have never played in a Final Four. They've never played Northwestern. They'd never played in an ACC championship," Reese said. "And look what we've accomplished so far with them."