Article by Todd Carton
If there were tears in the Boston College women’s lacrosse locker room after their 16-13 loss to the Maryland Terrapins in Sunday’s national championship game, the tears were well and legitimately earned. They were solely because of the outcome and wholly unrelated to their effort. Maryland might have had an edge in skill, talent and experience on the field in Foxboro but the Eagles certainly matched them in effort, heart and toughness. Had it not been for some opportunistic goals by Caroline Steele and a number of late game and very timely saves by Megan Taylor, Sunday’s outcome could have been the third time in five years the Terps’ entered the title game undefeated only to see their season end with a loss. But this time they made the critical plays and claimed a title with an unblemished record.
In some ways, the game could be likened to the climactic fight in the movie Rocky with the prohibitive favorite Maryland pitted against the scrappy underdog BC Eagles. It was an 11 round bout of punch and counter punch in which the underdogs never led but somehow managed to stay on their feet, keep fighting and wouldn’t allow the champ to knock them out.
Round one was a short affair lasting just two minutes and belonging squarely to Maryland. The Terps scored twice after winning the game’s first two draw controls on an illegal substitution and a post goal foul by Boston College. With those early scores in tow, round one clearly belonged to Maryland.
In round two, lasting five and a half minutes on the game clock, the Eagles settled in, took those early Terrapin jabs and responded with a pair of goals of their own. With just over 22 minutes to play, the challenger had tied the score at one round and two goals each.
Over the next six minute game segment, the Terps showed their championship mettle. They began to move the ball better than they had early on and their passing led to three straight goals by Steele with assists going to Kali Hartshorn, Zoe Stukenberg and Caroline Wannen respectively. With 16:11 to play in the half, BC looked to be reeling. What no one anticipated at the time was that the nation’s highest scoring offense would fail to score again for the remainder of the half.
Boston College’s Kenzie Kent, who would finish the game with five goals and five assists and would claim the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award, began to assert herself in the six minute stretch that comprised round four. Kent joined the team on March 29th after heling the Eagles ice hockey squad reach the Frozen Four and has been a game changer on the field as the Eagles scoring average improved by nearly three goas per game. Kent registered a goal and an assist as Boston College again matched Maryland’s run scoring three consecutive times to lift the Eagles to a 5-5 tie.
In a game that featured the nation’s highest scoring team in Maryland and a BC team that had average 19.5 goals per game in their NCAA Tournament run, round five proved to be the game’s most surprising stretch as neither of the high powered offenses found the net for the half’s final 10 minutes. Instead of efficient offense, the game turned slightly ragged as the teams combined for five turnovers (Maryland 3 and BC 2) and managed only a combined three shots on goal.
Coming out of halftime, in a sequence reminiscent of the earlier game between the two, Maryland put together the first of two flurries of combinations that knocked the Eagles down but didn’t knock them out. Needing just 19 seconds to score the first goal of the half, with the Terrapins’ leading goal scorer, Megan Whittle starting the onslaught, Maryland needed just four and a half minutes to turn a five all tie into a 10-5 advantage. The first time the teams met, Boston College scored two late first half goals to trail 8-7 before the Terps opened the second half on a 6-0 run and cruised to a 21-13 win.
Given that history, it would have been understandable if the Eagles had thrown in the towel. But the team’s makeup had changed since Kent’s addition and the junior proved her mettle and worth. BC began winning draws and Kent saw to it that they took advantage of the opportunity. Over a four minute stretch, she scored twice and assisted on a third goal and rather than crumbling as they had in College Park, the Eagles fed off the energy of a largely partisan record crowd of 11,668 as Boston College clawed their way back to within two at 10-8. Just over 20 minutes remained.
The Terps gained some momentum at the beginning of round eight when Whittle scored after a save by Taylor and a ground ball pickup by freshman Lizzie Colson who found her in open space for an easy score. But Kent had the answer as she picked up one more goal and another assist as BC won the round 2-1 and with 14 minutes to play trailed 11-10.
Once again, Maryland dug deep into their championship heart and pedigree and found a way to not only block the counterpunching Eagles but to land some blows of their own. Caroline Wannen, who scored on a wrap around, Taylor Hensh’s alley dodge and Hartshorn, who took a pass from Jen Giles and used some nifty footwork to dance around the crease, sandwiched a trio of scores around Kent’s fifth of the game. Hartshorn’s score came after a caused turnover by Colson and the first of two critical ground ball pickups by Whittle. Maryland once again had some breathing room at 14-11.
With 8:40 remaining, the champs sensed that one more good flurry should secure the victory. Known primarily as a scorer, Whittle, as she had on the ground ball, again out scrapped several BC players to register a critical draw control following Hartshorn’s score. Though Giles failed to convert her shot, the Terps shortened the game by nearly a minute and a half. Over the ensuing three minutes, the Terps tightened their defense and, with Taylor notching a pair of saves around a caused turnover by Morgan Torggler, Maryland’s offense responded with goals from Hensh and Steele putting the Eagles down on the turf and looking up at a 16-11 deficit. But BC staggered to their feet before the bell sounded and Maryland would have to withstand one more Boston College counter before securing the win.
With four minutes remaining, Boston College, who pressured the Terps into an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers and 28 fouls, turned up the pressure even more. While the Eagles scored twice, the Terrapins had a failed clear, a turnover and a missed shot with no backup. But by this time, Maryland had built enough of a lead that, even after the second score, they knew all they needed to do was get to the final horn and claim the program’s 13th NCAA Championship and their third in five years
The Terps made their ninth consecutive Final Four and the championship is Maryland’s fourth under head coach Cathy Reese. The win improves her record to 4-3 in title games.
With the win, Maryland became the first team to complete an undefeated season since Northwestern accomplished the feat in eight years ago 2009. Jen Adams and Cindy Timchal led the Terrapins to their last undefeated season eight years before that in 2001.
The 2017 senior class – Lindsay Biondi, Nadine Hadnagy, Emily Kift, Theo Kwas, Deb Milani, Bairre Reilly, Zoe Stukenberg, Morgan Torggler and Caroline Wannen graduates with three national championships and a cumulative record of record of 89-3 which represents the most wins and fewest losses of any class in the Terrapins’ illustrious lacrosse history.
Maryland placed four players on the All-Tournament team – Jen Giles, Kali Hartshorn, Caroline Steele and Zoe Stukenberg.
For the third consecutive year, Tewaaraton finalist Zoe Stukenberg won the NCAA’s Elite 90 Award. This award is presented to the student athlete with the highest grade point average in each NCAA Final Four at all levels.
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