Maryland's six-time defending national champion women's lacrosse team completed a perfect regular season for the sixth time in school history yesterday and, a few hours later, earned the top seed for the NCAA Division I tournament that begins Thursday.
The Terrapins (19-0) return to the tournament for the 12th straight year and are looking for their 10th national crown. They lead a tournament field expanded to 16 teams from 12 a year ago. Six conference champs received automatic bids: Hofstra (America East), Temple (Atlantic 10), Georgetown (Big East), James Madison (Colonial), Dartmouth (Ivy) and Monmouth (Northeast).
All of last year's Final Four teams are in the field -- Maryland, Princeton, Loyola and James Madison.
The Greyhounds, who fell to Maryland in last year's semifinals, return to the tournament for the seventh time in eight years.
Loyola coach Diane Geppi-Aikens said she believes this year's tournament is wide-open.
"Maryland is not running away with it as they have in years past," Geppi-Aikens said. "There's a chance for some upsets in this tournament. Even teams below the top nine are good teams. They've got speed and they've won some good games. There's even more parity this year than there's ever been."
The Greyhounds (13-4) will not be in Maryland's half of the bracket this time, but that doesn't make it much easier. Duke, North Carolina and Georgetown are on Loyola's side.
Thursday at Curley Field, the Greyhounds open with Colonial Athletic Association rival William and Mary. Loyola beat the Tribe, 14-7, at Curley Field on March 24.
If the Greyhounds can get past the Tribe, they would face Duke or Temple, neither of which they faced this season.
In the other half of the bracket, the Terps draw three teams who came within a goal of them this season -- Virginia (8-7, 7-6), Princeton (7-6) and Dartmouth (12-11).
The Terps, who finished their regular season with a 14-4 victory at Harvard yesterday, will be looking for their 40th straight win and their 18th straight in the tournament when they open with first-time qualifier Monmouth on Thursday at Ludwig Field. This will be the first meeting between the two teams.
With a victory, the Terps would draw Virginia or James Madison in a second-round game Sunday in College Park. While the Cavaliers have given the Terps fits with their slow-down game this season, Maryland rolled over James Madison, 16-6.
In Division III, Salisbury State, a semifinalist last year, and St. Mary's received berths in the 16-team field.
Salisbury, a regional host school, will play Ursinus in a first-round game Saturday. A win would send the Sea Gulls into Sunday's quarterfinals against Mary Washington or Washington & Lee.
Should the Sea Gulls win and draw Mary Washington, it would be the third meeting this season between the Capital Athletic Conference foes. Salisbury won, 14-13, during the regular season and 12-10 in overtime in the CAC final.
The Sea Gulls landed in the same half of the bracket as top-seeded Middlebury, while St. Mary's, another CAC team, landed in the half that includes defending champion College of New Jersey.
The Seahawks will face Ithaca in the first round Saturday at Amherst.(Division III women's tournament schedule, 9d)