When the No. 1 Maryland women's lacrosse team meets No. 2 North Carolina in College Park at noon Sunday, it will mark the 20th year of the rivalry but the first without Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For both coaches -- Maryland's Cathy Reese who played for the Terps and North Carolina's Jenny Levy, who played at Virginia -- it's still tough to see the loss of the other great ACC rivalries with Maryland.
"It's a good challenge for us, and it's something I don't want to give up," Reese said of the North Carolina rivalry.
"Our athletes get really excited to compete on both teams. They're two of the best teams in the country. It's such a great rivalry, and the teams have been pretty consistent in the ACC tournament and the final four. It's still so weird, because normally we're playing Carolina in April, and now I'm looking at my field covered with snow [on Tuesday] and the game's on Saturday."
Levy is thrilled to still have the Terps on her schedule. The Tar Heels are the only one of the other three original ACC teams to continue to play Maryland, which departed the conference for the Big Ten this year after winning six straight ACC tournament championships. To accommodate their Big Ten schedule, the Terps don't play Virginia or Duke.
"Cathy Reese and I really enjoy playing each other," Levy said. "We think it's a great game for the program, and we want to keep that. Luckily at Carolina, we didn't get involved with the politics of what the football and basketball groups are driving. Luckily for me, our [athletic director] allows me to schedule how we want. Maryland had to do what they had to do, but we really are excited to continue to play them."
North Carolina is the only team to beat the Terps in the past two years. The Tar Heels won the 2013 national championship, 13-12 in triple overtime over the Terps, and dealt Maryland its only loss, 17-15, last season before the Terps went on to win the national championship.
Maryland, which won its season opener, 15-5, at William and Mary on Sunday, earned the preseason No. 1 ranking in every poll thanks to a huge returning group.
The Terps have 10 starters back, including Tewaaraton Award-winning junior midfielder Taylor Cummings (McDonogh). Freshman attacker Megan Whittle, The Baltimore Sun's 2014 All-Metro Player of the Year from McDoongh, stepped into the one opening on attack. Filling in the other vacancy, Alex Fitzpatrick, a graduate student transfer from Lehigh, and sophomore Emily Kift split time in the goal.
Last season, North Carolina reached the NCAA quarterfinals before falling to Virginia, 10-9. By that point in the season, they had been decimated by injuries -- losing five starters and two other players to season-ending injuries, including key senior midfielders Brittney Coppa and Kelly Devlin.
Now, the Tar Heels (3-0) bring back all of that talent plus the youngsters who had to fill in last season, as well as several key newcomers, including USC transfer Alex Moore, who leads the team in scoring. Now, it's just a matter of putting it all together, which will take time, said Levy, a Roland Park graduate.
"Maryland returns almost everybody who's been on the field in the same role," Levy said, "so their situation is a little different than ours in that their commodity is a little more known where we're starting with a clean canvas. Although we have a lot of different kids on the field, they haven't really played a lot together … I think it's going to be a work in progress all year."