EWING, N.J. - Maryland seniors Christie Jenkins, Kristin Sommar, Tonia Porras and goalie Alex Kahoe will try to finish off their college careers this afternoon by continuing the Terrapins' historic run through the NCAA women's lacrosse championships.
The No.1 Terps will match their fine-tuned experience against No.2 Princeton's nothing-to-lose youthfulness at 3:10 p.m. at the College of New Jersey's Lions Stadium.
The Terps' foursome of All-America seniors could become the third straight senior class to leave College Park having won every national tournament in which they played. A Maryland victory today would be its sixth straight title, extending the longest championship run in NCAA women's lacrosse tournament history.
Playing for the title might seem like old news for the Terps, but Jenkins said that, even after winning three crowns, tournament time never loses its luster for the seniors.
"This is it. That makes it as exciting as it's going to get, knowing this is our last weekend," said Jenkins. "This is our last opportunity to play with the amazing people and coaches here. We really take it to heart. We want to show them and show everyone why we're out there helping each other. It's an awesome opportunity to be here again and I can't wait."
"From my perspective," said Porras, "this is probably the most special one, because we're the seniors and I feel like our team this year has really come together in all aspects of the game, on and off the field. All four years have been special, but this year is all that much more special.
In Friday night's semifinal, the Terps (20-1) had little trouble dispensing with No.5 Loyola, 17-7. They broke open a 3-3 game with seven straight goals en route to their 15th straight NCAA tournament victory.
The Tigers (15-3) tuned up with a surprisingly easy, 15-9 romp over No.3 James Madison and its high-powered offense. The Dukes came in averaging 14.7 goals per game, but the Tigers held them to just five goals until the final 13 minutes. By then the Tigers were ahead 12-5.
Both the Terps and Tigers have storied tournament histories, but Maryland has owned this tournament for the last five years and a win today would be their ninth title since 1981. The Terrapins have reached the final 10 of the last 11 years.
The only year coach Cindy Timchal's Terps did not reach the national final, 1993, Princeton knocked them out in the semifinal. That was the start of regular tournament meetings between the two.
Before Maryland began its historic run, Princeton was the last team to take the title. The Tigers beat the Terps in that 1994 final, but Maryland avenged the loss a year later and has won ever since.
All that history means little now, but today's game could be an interesting new chapter in a rivalry the Terps lead, 14 games to 3.
While Maryland returns every starter from last year's team, the Tigers have six new starters and a sophomore-driven attack. Sophomores Kim Smith, Lauren Simone and Charlotte Kenworthy have combined for 120 of the Tigers' 223 goals this season.
Smith, a Bryn Mawr graduate, scored a game-high five goals in the semifinal victory. She leads the Tigers with 46 goals and 10 assists while Simone, who had two goals and two assists Friday night, has 43 goals and 11 assists.
The Tigers' defense, however, has equaled its offense, giving up an average of only 7.7 goals per game. The defense of Molly Hall, Brooke Owens, Rachael Becker, Jessica Nelson and goalie Laura Field held James Madison's attack to single digits for only the second time all season.
Today, however, the Tigers face an even bigger challenge. The Terps have averaged 16 goals per game and their attack has even more options than James Madison's. They have scored 335 goals, breaking last year's school record by four goals.
In the semifinal, juniors Jen Adams and Allison Comito were nearly unstoppable. The duo combined for the first two goals of the second half and Adams had six of her seven points as the Terps blew the game open.
Another junior, Quinn Carney, had four assists Friday night to boost her NCAA career tournament-leading total to 16. Last year, Carney tied the tournament record for assists in a game with five in the title victory over Virginia.
Led defensively by Porras, Courtney Martinez, Tori Wellington and Kerri Mulligan, Maryland is allowing just seven goals per game. Kahoe has posted a .604 save percentage.
Princeton coach Chris Sailor knows her Tigers are underdogs, but she said her team is ready to try to avenge its 14-6 loss to the Terps on April 26.
"Everybody knows if you're going to win a national championship, you have to beat Maryland," said Tigers coach Chris Sailer.
"They're a team that's won five in a row. They're so poised. They have phenomenal stickwork and phenomenal teamwork. They read the game so well. They're great athletes. We know its going to be a challenge, but we're excited. Who would have thought we'd get here?"