May 24, 2014

Battle of Legacies: Terps, Orange to Play for NCAA Title

by Megan Schneider | | Twitter | May Madness Home

In their final year in the ACC, the Terps are looking to end their season with a bang in the NCAA championship game on Sunday. (Bill Danielewski)

Following Friday night's semifinals, the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament culminates Sunday with two of the most revered programs in the nation: No. 1 Maryland and No. 2 Syracuse.

These two teams have been built around their coaches' reputations for excellence under Cathy Reese for the Terps and Gary Gait for the Orange, both of whom were hired at their alma maters in 2007.

Maryland and Syracuse boast two Tewaaraton Award finalists each. For the Terps, Taylor Cummings and Megan Douty bring star power to the offense and defense, respectively, while the Orange dominates its opponents thanks to the dynamic duo of Alyssa Murray and Kayla Treanor, who had a hand in 14 of the 16 goals scored in its semifinal win Friday over Virginia.

It's possible the championship's most outstanding player could take home the Tewaaraton Award and NCAA title.

Maryland boasts 10 NCAA championships, but only one of those have come under Reese — via a 13-11 victory over Northwestern, which the Terps topped again Friday to advance to the final.

In her tenure as a coach in the powerful ACC — the only conference she's ever known — Reese is in pursuit of her second NCAA championship to go with her six straight ACC titles. This was Maryland's last year in the conference before heading off to the Big Ten in 2015. Reese ended the season right back where she started in 2007 as ACC Coach of the Year.

Syracuse's only other appearance in the NCAA championship game resulted in an 8-6 loss to Northwestern in 2012. Now in his eighth season, Gait has overseen a season of milestones, including when the Orange earned a No. 1 national ranking for the first time in program history following a win over then-No. 1 North Carolina in April.

Reese and Gait know the game well as former star athletes, assistant coaches and now head coaches. They know each other well, as Gait was an assistant at Maryland during Reese's playing days in College Park.

Will Reese add an NCAA title in her team's final year of the ACC, or will Gait lead the Orange to becoming the first Syracuse women's team in any sport to win a national championship? Whose legacy will stand strong?

"Getting to this point is a culmination of not just the group that's on the field, but it's really the players who came before them that allowed us to recruit these players by being exceptional student-athletes and doing their job when they were at Syracuse," Gait said. "It's really a program that's put this together to provide this opportunity. We're just happy to be here with the group we have. We thank all those who came before and we look forward to the future."

Both Syracuse and Maryland can recognize the young women that paved the way for the squads of 2014, starting with their own coaching staffs. Katie Rowan, an assistant for the Orange, and Caitlyn McFadden, an assistant for the Terps, are two of the most decorated players in their respective teams' histories.

Rowan, a 2009 graduate coached by Gait, is Syracuse's career leader in points (396) and assists (164). A Tewaaraton Award finalist and the school's only three-time All-American, Rowan has helped lay the foundation for this team, including guiding one of the Orange's top attackers and Tewaaraton Award finalist Michelle Tumolo in Rowan's first year as an assistant in 2012.

McFadden, a 2010 graduate who in 2010 led the Terps to their first NCAA title since 2001, was awarded the Tewaaraton Award her senior year. She also was a two-time first-team All-American, two-time ACC Player of the Year and the 2010 NCAA tournament's most outstanding player. Since her college career ended, she has mentored former teammate and two-time Tewaaraton Award winner Katie Schwarzmann, who graduated last year, and now manages one of the most potent offenses in the country.

Those former standouts are just a few of the influential players that have shaped what Maryland and Syracuse stand for today. It's a tale of two coaches, two programs, two histories that come together on Sunday. There are legacies in the making with Cummings, Douty, Murray and Treanor.

"It has to do with all of our legacies," said Murray, who remembered the gut-wrenching feeling of losing in the final two years ago. "We want to leave our mark, as a senior class and as a team. We're never going to have this exact unit together on the field another time other than Sunday. There's something to be said for that. We've had a record year so far. It would be the icing on the cake to end it with a ring."

For Maryland, Reese's reputation shines through the program that she has built. The Terps are about hard work, determination and respect, she said.

"I want to demonstrate class all over the field," Reese said. "I want our kids to play with pride and to play because they love the game and they love each other. It's something that's important to our style of lacrosse at Maryland."

Syracuse's two losses, the lone blips in an otherwise stellar season that has yielded a school-record 21 wins, are to Maryland — a 12-10 defeat in March and a 13-7 loss in the ACC championship game.

Can the Terps uphold that Maryland pride and win again, or will the Orange legacy prevail?

"Hopefully, third time will be a charm," Gait said.

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