Sports, Top Story, Spring, Lacrosse

In 2017 Rematch, Maryland Deals BC Third Straight National Championship Loss

BALTIMORE — Ten minutes before the 2019 National Championship, Maryland goaltender Megan Taylor was the only Terrapin on Homewood Field. With 9,433 fans watching, team managers fired shots in her direction, as she made stop after stop. Not only was the senior recording each save with ease, but she was doing so with the shaft of a regular women’s lacrosse stick. That was just the opening act of a tremendous goaltending performance, easily one of the best of her star-studded career.

After conceding 13 goals to BC in the 2017 National Championship and 15 more to the Eagles in the 2018 National Semifinals—including two in the final 10 minutes of regulation that ended Maryland’s season one game short of the NCAA final—Taylor turned the cage into a brick wall on Sunday afternoon on her way to being named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.

The four-time Big Ten Goaltender of the Year and 2019 Tewaaraton Award finalist tallied seven first-half saves, logging a .636 save percentage in the opening period of regulation. By the first half’s end, the second-seeded Eagles had just four goals to their name, their lowest first-half scoring output of the season. Top-seeded Maryland’s fourth-ranked scoring defense routinely collapsed on BC’s attackers, swallowing the likes of Sam Apuzzo, Kenzie Kent, and Dempsey Arsenault. Taylor did the rest.

Eventually, in the back half of play, the Eagles’ All-Tournament Team “Big Three” notched their fair share of highlight-reel scoring plays—especially Kent, who finished with five of BC’s 10 goals—but the scores were few and far in between. Taylor still controlled the narrative and finished the game holding the Eagles, a team that posted seven 20 spots this year, to just 10 goals. The senior was swarmed by her teammates and Maryland celebrated a 12-10 victory, along with its 14th national title. Meanwhile, the Eagles walked off the field searching for answers, falling just shy of their first championship for the third year in a row.

All game, Arsenault did an excellent job face-guarding Jen Giles, the Terrapins’ (22-1, 6-0 Big Ten) leading points scorer and other Tewaaraton Award finalist. But, with seven 40-plus goal scorers on its roster, Maryland’s offense hardly took a hit.

“That’s what I think has made us get to this point—is that everyone is working together, everyone’s a threat,” Giles said. “When you have seven people that can score at any time. That’s a team.”

Caroline Steele opened the scoring gates, just one minute and 36 seconds into the game, cashing in on an Erica Evans assist. With BC (22-2, 7-0 Atlantic Coast) defenders Hannah Hyatt and Elizabeth MIller in front of her, Steele wound up and ripped a shot past BC goaltender Lauren Daly. Much like Taylor, though, Daly—who started in place of sophomore Abbey Ngai—was on her A game. Actually, when all was said and done, the senior nearly went save for save with the Terrapins star goalkeeper, finishing with eight stops.

Daly was aided by a BC defense that kept Maryland in check throughout the majority of the afternoon. With a lull in scoring, the Eagles were provided the opportunity to equalize and then take their first and only lead of the day. The mini 2-0 BC run started with Cara Urbank, perhaps fittingly, considering that the junior fueled the Eagles’ two biggest scoring stretches during Friday’s Final Four win over North Carolina.

Approaching the 23-minute mark in the first half, Urbank shimmied by Grace Griffin and fired a shot into the bottom-right pocket of the net while falling to the turf. A mere 31 seconds later, BC was back on the prowl. Following an Apuzzo draw control, Kent got a 1-on-1 with Meghan Doherty on the perimeter. The graduate attacker charged toward the cage, spun, faked left and shot right, scoring the first of her game-high five goals.

Unfortunately for head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein, the two-score flurry was nothing more than a tease. Over the course of the next nine or so minutes, Maryland’s defense—comprised of All-Big Ten honorees Lizzie Colson, Julia Braig, and Shelby Mercer—shut down the Eagles. In the eyes of Terrapins head coach Cathy Reese, it was the unit’s best game of the season.

Every time BC attempted to cut inside the 18-meter mark, Maryland collapsed, leaving Eagles attackers no room to pass or even run at defenders. As a result, the Terrapins forced 10 turnovers and kept BC well under its 25.7 shots on goal per game average. And when Walker-Weinstein’s team did get a look on net, it typically soared high of the frame or into the net of Taylor.

“Megan Taylor, once again, put the team on her back back there and she’s making save after save—phenomenal, phenomenal plays,” Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said. “And that was huge, her ability to just shift the momentum.”

During the Eagles’ elongated scoring drought, Maryland reclaimed its lead and established a multi-goal cushion that it never relinquished.

Led by Steele—who scored or assisted on three of the Terrapins’ first four goals of the game—and Grace Griffin, Maryland stitched together a 4-0 run to enter the back half of the opening period with a 5-2 advantage. Apuzzo stopped the bleeding with her first goal of the game, but only for a moment. Right after the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner etched her name into the box score, Brindi Griffin (no relation to Grace) single handedly distanced Maryland from BC with a self-made three-goal run.

Apuzzo scored again to cut the Eagles’ deficit to four, this time cashing in on a free-position attempt. After the whistle, Arsenault dumped the ball off to Apuzzo, who bent around the cage and bounced a shot through Taylor’s five-hole. The Eagles had a chance to build serious momentum heading into the break, but a shot clock violation on their final possession of the period spoiled those plans. Thanks to a pair of Daly saves, BC went into the locker room, only trailing the Terrapins, 8-4.

The second half unfolded in an eerily similar fashion to the 2017 National Championship. Although Maryland didn’t start the period with a 5-0 run, it did extend its lead to 10-5 after Kent and Apuzzo executed the give-and-go to near perfection. What’s more, Kent—like in 2017—exploded for four second-half goals, almost willing BC all the way back into the game by herself.

The graduate attacker teamed up with Apuzzo and Arsenault to reduce the Terrapins’ lead to three goals on three separate occasions. But, twice Giles responded—for her only two goals of the game—to restore Maryland’s four-score advantage. The senior midfielder simply came to life, at one point using a spin move to lose Arsenault and find the back of the net.

In the final five minutes of play, Kent logged back-to-back goals and could have scored a third had it not been for a charging foul and a big-time Taylor save. Yet she couldn’t complete the comeback on her own. No Eagle could.

The Maryland defense rode out the waning minutes, punctuating a decade that’s now been bookended by Terrapin national titles—with three more sprinkled in between. Kent and BC’s senior class—a group of nine players that guided the Eagles to two ACC regular season titles, three straight national title game appearances, and a 71-20 record—had a very different taste in their mouths. After all, they’re on their way out. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be forgotten.

“Boston College wasn’t a lacrosse school four years ago. And now it is,” Walker-Weinstein said. “And now, because of them, lots of little girls want to come play at BC, and a lot of the top players in the world want to come play at BC. So because of what they built, the legacy will live on.”

Featured Image Courtesy of John Quackenbos / BC Athletics

Photo Courtesy of John Quackenbos / BC Athletics

May 26, 2019