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Preston: Boston College is rising, but Maryland showed why it still reigns in women's lacrosse

After watching her Maryland women’s lacrosse team secure its 14th national championship Sunday, coach Cathy Reese was standing on the sideline hugging everything in sight, from her players to the assistant coaches to the trainers. Her players were also in a state of euphoria, exchanging high-fives, hugs and piling on each other.

About 30 yards away, Boston College players lined up single file. They were solemn as they prepared to meet the Terps for postgame congratulatory handshakes. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they have become all too familiar with the ritual after losing an unprecedented third straight national championship game.

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They keep knocking at the door, but they can’t get in.

Maryland survived a stubborn second-half comeback attempt by Boston College in a 12-10 victory before an announced sellout crowd of 9,433 at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field. It was the classic tale of a powerhouse program refusing to relinquish its hold on the sport against a rising challenger that’s not quite good enough to take it.

The Terps (22-1) won their fifth title under Reese, who has a 301-51 record in 13 years at the school. Four of those titles have come since 2014, including back-to-back in 2014 and 2015.

Boston College wants to be in the same position as Maryland someday.

“Collectively, they have some of the best players around on that roster,” said Boston College coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein, who played at Annapolis High and Maryland and has been Eagles coach since 2012. “Four years ago, Boston College wasn’t a lacrosse school, and now it is. A lot of little girls didn’t want to go there, but now they do. And now our senior class gets to sit and enjoy their legacy.”

Maryland has a storied history, as the Terps were making their 22nd appearance in the title game. When teams like Maryland compete in a short-schedule event like the final four, which is played over three days, they have the advantage because of their superior talent and depth.

Boston College came into the game averaging 17.13 goals a game, led by attackers Sam Apuzzo and Kenzie Kent and midfielder Dempsey Arsenault. Kent had five goals and Apuzzo had three, but Boston College couldn’t find it’s rhythm until late in the game.

Other teams have had success shading or aggressively sliding to those three playmakers, but Maryland played them straight-up and got in position early to avoid sliding too hard or too fast. The Terps also got a strong game from goalie Megan Taylor, who had 10 saves.

Great programs have great players. Boston College just doesn’t have enough yet.

On offense, Maryland just had too many weapons. Midfielder Grace Griffin and attacker Brindi Griffin each had three goals, while attackers Caroline Steele and Kali Hartshorn and midfielder Jen Giles each had two. It was pick-your-poison.

The Terps are unselfish. They can attack from straight-up, on the wings or from behind the goal. They cut extremely well around and outside of the crease. And this group is relentless.

“The best thing about Maryland is that everybody is a threat on this team,” Giles said.

Few will argue with her. Just the name “Maryland” will get Reese into the homes of all the top recruits, and her winning percentage of nearly .924 is just as impressive. But this program isn’t just about wins and losses.

A lot of players like to throw the “we are family” concept around, but it’s sincere at Maryland. Granted, a lot of the players are from the Maryland area and have known or played against each other growing up, but the Terps are a tight-knit group.

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They cried as much on the stage after the game as Boston College did, and the Terps won. Maybe it’s because they don’t take anything for granted despite the high expectations.

“You hear all those statistics about you’ve been to this many final fours,” Steele said. “We all just have to take a step back and realize this is a different team. People leave, people go. We don’t take anything for granted. We enjoy the moment and realize we are just one of four teams, and then one of two teams, still playing, and this is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Boston College is getting there. The Eagles were unbeaten during the regular season. They lost in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship to North Carolina for the second straight year.

They have outstanding speed and they hustle. They have a blue-collar work ethic, and it showed Sunday as they outhustled Maryland in groundballs, 18-9, and were tireless while riding the Terps during clearing attempts.

Boston College’s situation is similar to that of the Denver, Maryland and Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse programs in recent years. All three had failures in title games, but succeeded shortly thereafter.

It takes time and patience.

“It’s a disappointing day for the program,” Walker-Weinstein said. “I’m proud of our kids and it was a good fight by my team. I wish we could have done more.

“Obviously, as a competitor, you look back on things you should have done differently. But the entire program, school, girls and coaching have been laser-focused all year.”

And that’s all she could ask from her team. Boston College just ran into a program that’s still at the top of its game and the sport.

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