In NCAA women's lacrosse, the evolution of the Turtle continues apace. Maryland's Terrapins -- their speed and instant adaptability a counterintuitive reality to the school's nickname -- were clearly the superior species in a 14-8 national semifinal victory over Duke on Friday at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium.
The conclusive win put Maryland in the championship game for the 20th time in the tournament's 30 years, at Stony Brook on Sunday against five-time champ Northwestern -- a step from the Terps' 12th national title. (One of those came prior to the NCAA's sponsorship of the tournament.)
"We're a fast team, we like to transition the ball, we like to move from one end of the field to the other," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. "We want to make sure that any of our seven players on the offensive end are a threat and can score. For the most part, it's always been that way. The style is part of me being a product of the Terrapins myself."
Ranked No. 1, with only a double-overtime loss to Dartmouth in 22 games this season, Maryland carried on -- unfazed -- through a series of untimely injuries. Only two opponents -- Duke, in an 18-11 loss, and Princeton, beaten 17-10 -- reached double figures against Maryland all year.
Just more of the same history. So predatory has Maryland been in the sport that three of the four head coaches in this year's Final Four -- Reese, Kelly Amonte Hiller of Northwestern and Kerstin Kimel of Duke -- all played at Maryland, all for teams that won the NCAA championship.
Though Hiller called No. 2 seed Northwestern the "oddball team" in the group of semifinalists that included a third Atlantic Coast Conference team, No. 3 North Carolina, she in fact employed the Maryland emphasis on speed to guide Northwestern to five straight championships -- a streak stopped last year by . . . Maryland.
On Friday, Maryland took longer than usual to break out of its offensive shell as both teams probed for an offensive opening through most of the first half. Though Duke led only once, and briefly, at 1-0, Maryland was clinging to a 3-2 lead with 4:57 to play in the half after Duke junior Kim Wenger put a hard, slingshot 8-yarder into the Maryland net.
A steal by Maryland defender Brittany Poist set up a quick answer by sophomore midfielder Katie Schwarzmann 29 seconds later. And senior Laura Merrifield, slashing toward the goal, whipped in a short shot for a 5-2 halftime lead.
From there, Maryland began to leave Duke in the primordial ooze. Three Maryland goals in the first five minutes of the second half turned the game into a track meet, an event decidedly to Maryland's advantage.
Schwarzmann and Australian senior Sarah Mollison finished with four goals apiece and Merrifield, a senior from England, had three. Mollison, especially, remained just out of Duke's reach, triggering plays behind the goal, scoring on a wrap-around move and from the dead-ball free position.
"You know, we looked at everything everyone tries to do to Sarah," Kimel said. "And it doesn't work. It's a tribute to her."
In general, said Duke goalie Mollie Mackler, who faced 32 shots compared with the 20 taken by her teammates, "it was not different from what we've seen . They play very well."