Patient Terps earn title at home
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- After defeating North Carolina twice earlier this season, Maryland faced its ACC rival for a third and final time in the national championship game on Sunday afternoon.
Before a crowd of 2,381 on their home field -- where they haven't lost since Oct. 11, 2008 -- the Terrapins emerged victorious once again, defeating the Tar Heels 3-2 in double overtime. The game marked the first time since 1994 that a championship had been decided in overtime.
For Maryland, the victory was a taste of sweet revenge after last year's national championship game when UNC defeated the Terrapins 3-2 by scoring the winning goal with 11 seconds left to play.
"They gave us the best possible lesson last year," Maryland senior Katie O'Donnell said afterward. "This year we knew that if they can win it in such little time, we have plenty of time to turn it around."
Both teams jumped out to a fast start, with Carolina relying on its strong defense while Maryland pushed a continuous attack. Like both of their matchups earlier this season, Maryland was first onto the scoreboard, with freshman Hayley Turner scoring from the right side off a penalty corner less than five minutes into the game.
UNC tied the game with 30 seconds remaining in the first half and kept its offensive intensity in the second, as UNC junior Teryn Brill fired a shot from the top of the circle low into the goal to give UNC the 2-1 lead at the 41:03 mark.
But as the second half continued, Maryland found its footing, pushed forward by the sea of red and white shirts that filled the stands and spilled over onto the surrounding field. Chants of "Right here! Right now!" echoed repeatedly throughout the afternoon. The Terrapins took eight shots on goal in the second half (as compared to only two in the first) while allowing the Tar Heels only one penalty corner in the second (as opposed to the three that UNC allowed them).
Still, the Tar Heels' defensive stops, their benchmark throughout the season, fought off the Terps' increased attack. Maryland missed scoring opportunities on two consecutive second-half penalty corners: first, when UNC senior goalie Jackie Kintzer blocked a shot by Ali McEvoy and again, less than a minute later, when Maryland's Jemma Buckley shot wide left.
Kintzer worked relentlessly throughout the afternoon, running out of the box several times to block or fall on shots and kick balls out of play.
"We've got Jackie in goal and she's the secret weapon," UNC head coach Karen Shelton said afterward. "She was magnificent today and kept us in it, especially in the overtime."
With less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation, the Tar Heels held onto a 2-1 lead and UNC junior Meghan Dawson continued to frustrate O'Donnell, the Terrapins' leading scorer. But the Terps demonstrated the depth that has led them to a 23-1 season when, with just more than 7½ minutes remaining, sophomore defender Harriet Tibble fired a reverse shot from the left of the circle to tie the game at 2.
Heading into the first seven-on-seven, 15-minute overtime, both teams looked wearied. Dawson repeatedly yelled "time and space!" to her teammates, reminding them to spread the field and make deliberate, controlled passes.
"I was just trying to encourage them and let them know there wasn't any pressure, and to have that confidence," Dawson said afterward.
Both teams earned three shots on goal in the first OT, but neither was able to convert. Again, the Tar Heels' defense stifled Maryland's chances, as the Terps couldn't score on three penalty corners.
In the second overtime Maryland refused to back down, dominating possession time. Carolina's defenders continued to make stops but looked more exhausted, stretching their sticks and almost willing the ball out of the circle. Maryland shot five times on goal in the second overtime; Carolina, for the first time all afternoon, didn't manage a single shot.
In fact, UNC only crossed the midfield line twice the entire OT. The Tar Heels looked to attempt another offensive run at the 2:15 mark before O'Donnell made a stop that would lead to the game winner.
Sprinting toward a slow-moving UNC pass, O'Donnell intercepted the ball and pivoted around, falling to the field as she passed to sophomore Megan Frazer. Frazer dribbled the ball, evading several defenders before moving toward the goal and firing a missile-like shot toward the right side.
"I don't think anyone in the nation could've stopped that," O'Donnell said afterward of Frazer's shot.
When asked about the shot, Frazer said she couldn't remember anything but the sound of the ball on the backboard. "I'm kind of blanking," Frazer said afterward, smiling.
The Terrapins celebrated at midfield, then ran over to the band, jumping up and down and raising their arms in triumph toward the fans.
The Terrapins are now 95-9 at their home complex and 18-1 in NCAA tournament games played at Maryland. Head coach Missy Meharg owns an impressive .797 win percentage, second among all active NCAA coaches (Old Dominion's Beth Anders is first at .802).
The two ACC rivals have now met five times in the national title game, with Maryland claiming the overall lead at 3-2. From 2005 to 2010, either Maryland or UNC has won the national championship.
"We just fell a little bit short at the end," Shelton said afterward. "They were very opportunistic in the end and of course both teams were extremely exhausted."
The Tar Heels end their season at 22-3. Immediately following the game, talk turned toward the next season. "Marta Malmberg said to me, 'Next year starts tomorrow,'" Shelton said.
The 23-1 Terrapins, however, will savor their national championship, on the heels of a near-perfect season (their only loss was a 4-2 defeat at Princeton). Six-time national champion Meharg, named coach of the year for the second straight season, said Friday night that despite her team's string of successes, they'd continuously focused on staying in the present.
"We've worked hard with our sports psychologist on this: Whatever game you play, if you're willing to fight as hard as you can and stay away from the score " Meharg said. "The score is only a product of what you make it."
Still, today's score is one they'll likely hold on to for a long time. Despite finishing her senior season one goal shy of the 100-goal mark, O'Donnell was elated about her teammate's game winner. "It was an amazing shot on an amazing field in an amazing environs," she said. "It couldn't have been any better to win, especially against rivals. It's amazing."
Anna K. Clemmons is a writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.