Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Maryland women’s lacrosse crumbles late, falls in national semifinal

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BALTIMORE — Nearly all of Maryland’s key players had never stepped onto the field in a Final Four game, yet here they were on championship weekend, not just participating but hoping to carry on the renowned tradition of the women’s lacrosse program. On the sport’s biggest stage, the Terrapins built a narrow lead over Boston College in the fourth quarter of the national semifinal, only for the Eagles to storm ahead with the final four goals of the game on their way to a 17-16 victory.

As second-seeded Maryland faced the defending NCAA champion, neither team led by more than three goals. The Terps held on to the advantage for much of the fourth quarter — until reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Charlotte North tied the score with 3:06 remaining. And when the Eagles needed a hero, senior Cassidy Weeks delivered the game-winner with 18 seconds to go.

Boston College’s Hollie Schleicher, who had caused a key turnover about a minute earlier, then controlled the draw to deny Maryland a chance to equalize.

“It’s hard when your season ends that way,” said Maryland Coach Cathy Reese, who has led the Terps to 12 of the past 13 Final Fours. “It’s hard when the last goal of the game is scored with 18 seconds on the clock. It’s a heartbreaker.”

In this matchup, Maryland couldn’t grab an early lead and cruise, as it often had this season and as it did in both previous games of this tournament. The Terps (19-2) instead tried to weather 60 minutes of tension Friday afternoon at Homewood Field. They were unable to put the game away late, failing to score in the final seven minutes.

Boston College will meet top-seeded and undefeated North Carolina in the national title game Sunday at noon. The Tar Heels (21-0) needed a ferocious rally to defeat No. 4 Northwestern in the first semifinal. North Carolina trailed by seven with 10 minutes to go before a late surge of eight unanswered goals lifted the ACC champions to a 15-14 victory.

Now the Eagles, coached by former Maryland player Acacia Walker-Weinstein, will have a chance to take down the Tar Heels and repeat as champions.

Maryland began the fourth quarter with a fragile 11-10 edge. Back-to-back goals from junior Hannah Leubecker and sophomore Eloise Clevenger gave the Terps a temporary cushion, but Boston College refused to let Maryland sail to the finish.

“When it got a little tight, I thought we were a little hesitant,” Reese said. “We struggled clearing the ball towards the end of the game there. Just sort of got caught back on our heels instead of forward on our toes. That was tough.”

Boston College’s defense proved to be the difference-maker in those final minutes, Walker-Weinstein said. The Eagles tied the game at 16 with 3:06 remaining when North, a finalist again for lacrosse’s top individual award, scored her sixth goal of the day.

Leubecker, who said she noticed increased pressure from the Eagles late, had a turnover on Maryland’s next possession, opening the door for Weeks to score the go-ahead goal. Once Boston College won the draw control, the Eagles bobbed with excitement on the sideline while the Terps watched in disbelief.

“We know we can climb out of any hole we’re in,” North said. “We can take the lead with any amount of time left.”

The Terps leaned on all those players who had never before reached this round of the tournament, and for much of the game, they played with poise. Leubecker — part of the Maryland teams that had a canceled season in 2020 and then lost in the second round a year ago — scored a team-high five times, but the costly turnover helped tilt the game in the Eagles’ favor.

Shaylan Ahearn, the junior who takes the draws for the Terps, watched the Eagles secure all five attempts in the circle in the opening quarter. Ahearn rebounded when Maryland needed to stop the Eagles from dominating possession, and she finished with a game-high nine draw controls — yet she couldn’t secure the one at the end that mattered most.

Ahearn and Leubecker, who each have two more seasons of eligibility remaining, are part of that young core of Maryland’s team. Fourteen of the Terps’ 16 goals came from players who have played no more than two full seasons of college lacrosse. Yet they had developed through this season, turning into Big Ten champions and national title contenders.

“This isn’t enough for them,” Reese said. “Losing in this game wasn’t enough. And that’s what’s hard. You get to this point — and I get it, only one team can win — but I think we had something really special.”

A rebuilding process began after a veteran team won the 2019 national title, so when the Terps returned to this stage after a two-year layoff, 11 of 12 starters made their first appearances in a Final Four game.

Those players had moments of excellence: Junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling, who led the nation in save percentage entering Friday, stopped five Boston College shots in the first quarter, key for the Terps with the Eagles winning all five draws in that period. Clevenger’s backhanded shot capped Maryland’s run of four straight goals that gave it a 7-6 lead at the break. Junior Libby May scored three goals with a pair of assists.

But the Terps could never pull a comfortable margin ahead. As Maryland clung to a lead in the second half, Boston College and its veterans narrowed the gap. Walker-Weinstein considered substituting Weeks out of the game after she survived a triple-team while racing up the sideline. The coach turned to Weeks’s twin, Courtney, who offered assurance that her sister didn’t need rest.

And moments later, there she was — a senior who has performed on this stage before, ready to deliver the winner.



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