COLLEGE PARK – Entering Memorial Day weekend, both the University of Maryland men’s and women’s lacrosse teams were two victories away from repeating last year’s feat of winning their respective national championships.
However, both teams headed back to College Park empty-handed.
In a rematch of last year’s NCAA Women’s National Championship, junior attacker Sam Apuzzo’s four goals led No. 4 Boston College past the No. 1 Lady Terps on May 25 in Stony Brook, New York. The men did not fare any better. They were unable to bounce back from an early 6-0 deficit as they lost to former Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) rivals Duke University in the semifinals 13-8, on May 26 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
The losses ended another spectacular year for the school’s lacrosse programs, which dropped three combined losses during the regular season.
“Obviously, (it is) very disappointing to see the journey end, and I think that is the hardest thing,” University of Maryland Men’s Head Coach John Tillman said. “There are a bunch of tears, certainly in the locker room, and I think at this time of year, whether you make it to (the national title game) or not, you know the journey is going to end, and that is the hardest thing because this group has been so tight all year.”
After conquering a 42-year national championship drought last year, Maryland (14-4) won five-straight to start the season and ended the year with the 13th ranked scoring offense. After falling to Ohio State 12-10 on April 22 in their home regular-season finale, the Terrapins won a triple-overtime thriller against local rival Johns Hopkins on May 5 to earn their fourth consecutive Big Ten regular-season title.
The Blue Jays would avenge the loss, defeating their southern neighbors 13-10 for the conference tournament championship on May 5, ending a two-year conference title-winning streak the Terps amassed.
In the national semifinals, Maryland fell behind early after Duke scored eight of the game’s first 10 goals. Maryland goalkeeper Dan Morris kept Maryland in the game, recording a game-high 14 saves.
Even though the Terrapins were one point away from tying the game in the third quarter, hat tricks by three Duke players, including midfielder Nakeie Montgomery, were the knockout blows to Maryland’s title hopes.
“They had more energy than us in the beginning,” defender Curtis Corley said. “This obviously stings but we fought back, and we stuck to our game plan. We had great efforts out of our seniors, but it’s a little tough to see how we sent them out. Other than that, I thought we showed some resilience, and this team is a resilient group, and we fought back to make it a game.”
The loss was the final game for senior midfielder Connor Kelly. The Easton, Connecticut native became Maryland’s main offensive threat, leading the team in goals (46), assists (36) and points per game (4.5). His 82 points put him at third-most amassed in a regular season in the program’s history. He scored one goal and dished out three assists against Duke.
“Maryland sets the standard for what it is to play college lacrosse. Hard-working, resilient and unselfish. I couldn't think of playing for any other program or anyone but coach (Tillman),” Kelly said. “My individual success stems from the team, from top to bottom, starting with Dan Morris and ending with the attack and I cannot thank (them) more for such a great journey.”
Meanwhile, for the Lady Terps (20-2), hopes of ending another season undefeated were dashed in the third game of the season after a 16-15 overtime loss against the University of North Carolina on Feb. 24. It would be the only loss that they suffered before the NCAA tournament as Maryland went on an 18-game win streak, sweeping up the Big Ten regular season and tournament title during the process.
Maryland looked to be in control of Boston College in the semifinals, scoring the opening three goals and took a 6-2 lead. However, the Lady Eagles fought back, tying the game at eight before halftime.
Both teams traded the lead for the entire second half until Apuzzo’s back-to-back goals in under a minute sealed the win for Boston College. Maryland was shutout for the last 14 minutes of the game.
Senior attacker Megan Whittle’s magical scoring career with Maryland ends with 298 career goals, a new school record. Her 84 goals put her in second place for most goals in a single season by a Lady Terp. Despite her offensive success, Whittle could only score once during the Boston College loss, ending a three-year stranglehold that Maryland had over the national championship.
“It’s tough to see this group’s season end, and I don't think any of us were ready for that,” University of Maryland Women’s Head Coach Cathy Reese said. “I’m just proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish this year.”
Two Terps will still have a chance to collect individual honors as Kelly and Whittle were nominated for The Tewaaraton Award for the most outstanding collegiate player in men’s and women’s lacrosse. The winners will be announced during the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on May 31.