DURHAM, N.C. | Shortly after John Tillman took over Maryland’s lacrosse program in June, the mother of star attackman Ryan Young told him there were two things she wanted from the new coach: to see to it the senior attackman graduated and ensure he earned a title before his career was over.
Maria Young died April 17 from pancreatic cancer. A week later, the visiting Terrapins defeated Duke 11-9 at Koskinen Stadium in the ACC tournament final.
“I told them we couldn’t let her down,” Tillman said while wearing a purple Maryland lacrosse shirt promoting pancreatic cancer awareness.
The third-seeded Terps (10-3) didn’t in front of a crowd of 4,328 featuring dozens of purple-clad Maryland fans, rallying from a three-goal deficit in the first half to secure its first ACC championship since 2005.
There was a common thread between the two teams. Travis Holmes was a midfielder for the Terps six years ago. The third Holmes brother to come through College Park, Curtis, is the Terps’ current faceoff specialist. He won 18 of 24 draws - besting Duke star C.J. Costabile on all but four of their 13 faceoffs - to help Maryland dominate possession against the top-seeded Blue Devils (11-5).
“He said it was like no other feeling he’s had,” Curtis Holmes said. “Winning the ACC was the biggest thing he accomplished in his career.”
It’s something the two now share, but Holmes also brought a bit of happiness to a difficult week for Young, whose twin brother is a midfielder for Duke. While the Blue Devils built a 5-2 lead, Holmes consistently handed possession to the Terps and denied Duke the opportunity to string together the sort of run that helped it reach the final four in five of the past six years.
Maryland tied it by halftime and traded goals with Duke in the third quarter. Appropriately, it was Young who secured the Terps’ first three-goal edge, depositing a John Haus feed past goalie Dan Wigrizer for a 10-8 lead with 12:08 remaining.
“I was just extremely tired,” Young said. “Getting that goal gave a little jump-start to finish the game for us and for me.”
Tournament MVP Grant Catalino scored three goals for Maryland, which avenged regular-season losses to both Duke and North Carolina to win the tournament for the fourth time in its 23-year existence.
Such a feat seemed improbable just a month earlier. The Terps squandered a four-goal advantage against North Carolina on March 26 and discovered their veteran-laden team wouldn’t win a conference title or advance to Memorial Day weekend simply by showing up.
In the four weeks since, Maryland swept through the rest of the ACC and hammered Navy on the road. Even the one setback -to Hopkins - featured strong play.
The stretch brought the Terps to a place they were originally pegged to be at so late in the season. Maryland, which will conclude its regular season May 7 against Colgate, will enter the NCAA tournament as a threat to advance deep into May, even if it arrives at that place in a circuitous manner.
The Terps will do it with an experienced unit, one brought even closer together by a teammate’s tragedy. And they’ll do it after collecting a title, fulfilling a major part of Maria Young’s dream for her son.
“We’ve been working hard all year to get two championships, and this is a step in the right direction,” Catalino said. “It’s not the end of the road, for sure.”