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Terps freshman Megan Whittle caps high-scoring season with big performance in final

If Megan Whittle hadn't been forced to sit in a chair for the press conference after Maryland won the NCAA women's lacrosse championship Sunday night, she might still have been jumping up and down.

The freshman didn't hold back her emotions after adding a little extra pizazz to the biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history with back-to-back goals that capped a 5-0 run and revived the Terps' championship mettle. That spurt erased a three-goal deficit -- and then some.

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Whittle fed Taylor Cummings for the tying goal and then broke the tie, giving No. 1 Maryland its biggest lead of the game with two unassisted goals in little more than a minute for an 8-6 lead. That left Whittle jumping for joy.

The McDonogh graduate finished with three goals and an assist, but the timing of her last three points proved especially crucial to the 9-8 win over No. 2 North Carolina and Maryland's second straight national championship. The Tar Heels would score twice more but the Terps were on a roll and Taylor Cummings sandwiched the game winner between North Carolina's final two goals.

Even though 15:51 still remained after Whittle gave Maryland that 8-6 lead, the game had changed from a first-half dominated by Tar Heels possession and she felt it wasn't going to change back.

"I think that everything started to click in the second half at that point," Whittle said. "We were getting good turnovers off our riding and we were also efficient with our shots. I think that was a good part of the game to get our momentum back."

For Whittle, who arrived at Maryland last fall as the most heralded freshman recruit in the country, the transition to college was as smooth as it could be. Last season's All-Metro Player of the Year fit perfectly into the one field spot the Terps needed to fill after graduating Beth Glaros, but she had to learn how to fit into a veteran attack.

"Coming onto a team that returned three first-team All-Americans on offense, it's a tough spot to be in," Terps coach Cathy Reese said. "And that was a challenge all year, just finding her place and sharing the ball with so many skilled attackers. She does whatever you ask. Her teammates do trust her with the ball. She can dodge. She can score as we saw [Sunday] as well. I think she did learn a lot this season -- how to play as part of a team offense, and where to go and where to be when. I think she's going to be a fun player to watch over her career."

Playing at McDonogh, where her teams were 80-0 and won four Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championships, Whittle scored some of the biggest goals of her senior year as the Eagles came from behind to win their final two games to keep alive a winning streak that has now reached 133 games.

She scored five goals including the game winner as the Eagles overcame a two-goal deficit to beat Severn in the semifinal. She had three goals and two assists and also scored the game winner as the Eagles came from three goals down to beat Roland Park in the final.

That made her ready for the No. 1 college team in the country.

"Well, Meg didn't need much acclimating," Cummings said. "She's so good, and I played with her in high school, and I knew right away she would make an impact here. I think we just trust her, we trust her just as much as anyone else. She didn't play like a freshman; she hasn't played like a freshman all year. She's what got us here, and she's a part of what made us a championship team. We're lucky to have her."

Whittle led the Terps with 67 goals this spring and made 52 percent of her shots. That drew a lot of defensive attention, including a face guard from Syracuse in the semifinal that pulled her out of the offense and kept her without a goal for the only time this season.

Her blistering first step makes her tough to contain. She blasts off the line on an 8-meter shot. Attacking from the top, she gets a jump on a defender and is a slippery dodger. Her quickness also gives her an edge trying to beat a defender on the crease.

But a sometimes underappreciated part of her game also stood out Sunday night – redefending. When she doesn't have the ball, Whittle relentlessly pursues it until it crosses the restraining line out of her reach.

Against the Tar Heels, she caused two turnovers on the ride, including forcing North Carolina goalie Megan Ward into a second-half turnover that Whittle turned into the Terps' seventh goal – the one that gave them the lead for good.

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"I think she's a great player," North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said. "Watching her on film, she's obviously very committed. She works hard on the field. Even when she doesn't have the ball in her stick, I think she gives them a tremendous boost on the ride. She plays with a lot of confidence and swagger and just pure instinct."

For Whittle, who is now 101-1 in the past five springs, capping the season with a national title and a spot on the All-Tournament Team – added to her selection as a third-team All-American – is the best finish she could ask for.

"I'm honored to be sitting here with these guys and to be on the team with them," Whittle said at the news conference with Cummings, the tournament Most Outstanding Player and last season's Tewaaraton Award winner, and defender Megan Douty, a 2014 Tewaaraton finalist.

"I've learned so much this year, starting in the fall. Playing every day against the best defense and every day with the best attackers you learn a lot and you learn a lot quickly. I figured out my place and everyone trusted me and they told me that before the game. I trust everyone and it worked out. It was something really special to be a part of."

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