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May 29, 2016 — Notes from the Final Four

After the Division I championship weekend in Philadelphia, here are a few observations about what’s happened:

1. Never assume. The weekend had “coronation” written all over it, given the ease by which the University of Maryland had beaten most of its opponent this season. One notable exception earhlier this season: North Carolina. Nobody believed that Maryland could be beaten — except for that UNC bunch. Self-belief counts for a lot.

2. Jenny Levy’s gut feeling. Goalies in field-invasion sports like lacrosse, field hockey, and soccer are somewhat like quarterbacks on a football team. Because of their pivotal role on a team, long-term success dictates having a known starter and one or more known backups. As John Madden is reputed to have said about quarterbacks, “If you have two starters, you have none.” But UNC coach Jenny Levy has often used hunches to determine when her goalies Megan Ward and Caylee Waters would get to play. Megan Ward started the national semifinal against Penn State and lasted only a shade more than eight minutes, making no saves; Caylee Waters played the rest of the game. She went back to Ward for the final and she made 14 stops.

3. Carly Reed. Three years ago, the junior finished off a storied prep career at Alexandria St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes (Va.) with 475 goals. Though she had a strong freshman campaign with 35 goals, she got into only 11 games a year ago, scoring eight. But in 2016, she showed clutch performances in tight matches. She had four goals in the ACC final, five goals in the semifinals, and two more in the championship game. And as a result, she has a championship ring.

4. The Herb Brooks strategy. In many of sport’s great and famous victories, the key to victory is to find out what makes the opponent successful and throw it right back at them. It worked in 1980, and it certainly worked in the final. Carolina sprinted out to a five-goal lead in the first half and never let go. Similar quick starts on the part of Maryland have been the hallmark of the team the last few seasons.

5. The pressure of comparison. This week, Jen Adams, the greatest female lacrosse player who ever lived, said this to the Baltimore Sun when asked who was the best player ever: “If my vote counts for anything, I vote for Taylor Cummings.” It’s a compliment to the two-time Tewaaraton Trophy winner, but it is its own kind of pressure — not only on Cummings, but on a team trying to build its own history.

6. The new landscape. Think of this: teams from non-traditional lacrosse areas have won nine out of the last 12 Division I championships, and with the rise of programs like Florida and Southern California, it is a different era. Too, I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for future Division I champions to go through the entire season undefeated; the last two were Northwestern in 2005 and 2009.

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