BALTIMORE — Legions of Maryland’s loyal college lacrosse subjects made the quick trip here to the sport’s capital Monday hoping to witness a coronation 36 years in the making. It had been that long since the Terrapins’ last national championship, and there were reasons to think this was their day to reclaim the crown.
Attackman Matt White, however, scored two fourth-quarter goals to spoil Maryland's party and return Virginia to the throne. The Cavaliers overcame a scoreless first quarter and extended Maryland’s title drought by surviving a late rally in a 9-7 victory in front of 35,661 fans at M&T Bank Stadium.
“It’s a dream come true,” sophomore Nick O’Reilly said. “We were those kids in the stands hoping one day that we’d be playing [for the championship].”
Virginia won its fifth national title and first since 2006. That the Cavaliers finished on top was a testament to their collective resilience after several turbulent moments over the past few years.
As they celebrated their title in front of their supporters seated in the first few rows, it was impossible not to consider the hurdles they faced on their journey to the sport’s pinnacle.
Former team captain Will Barrow committed suicide in the fall of 2008 while he was completing his degree after his lacrosse eligibility expired. Then last May, midfielder George Huguely was charged with killing Virginia women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love.
There was adversity on the field, too. Virginia dismissed two-time first-team all-American midfielder Shamel Bratton from the squad in April for repeatedly violating team rules. His brother, Rhamel, a second-team all-American, also was suspended indefinitely.
The Cavaliers lost four out of five games earlier this season and entered the NCAA tournament as the seventh seed, their lowest since 2001.
All of that became prologue to a convincing victory Monday afternoon. Sitting next to the championship trophy afterward, Virginia coach Dom Starsia said the victory “suspends belief.”
“This moment is particularly gratifying when you consider all that we had to endure to put ourselves in a position to be able to do this,” he said.
Cavaliers midfielder Colin Briggs added five goals after being suspended for Saturday’s semifinal victory over Denver. Virginia scored five times in the second quarter to overcome its slow start, and Maryland failed to convert a handful of glorious scoring opportunities.
The Terrapins finished one victory from becoming the first unseeded team to win the NCAA tournament. They beat top-ranked Syracuse earlier in the tournament, but first-year coach John Tillman couldn’t prevent Maryland from falling to 0-6 in championship games since 1975.
“A very fitting champion,” Tillman said, “showing that when a group sticks together, they can do just about anything.”
The party here was well under way by late morning as thousands relocated their Memorial Day cookouts to the parking lots surrounding the stadium. The scene easily could have been mistaken for a fall football tailgate if it weren’t for the oppressive heat.
The heat, however, undoubtedly deterred some fans. The game-time temperature of 96 degrees reached 98 by halftime with a heat index of 102. The announced attendance was almost 10,000 fewer than Saturday’s semifinals here.
Many of those who did turn out battled the heat by showing as much skin as possible. Sunburned shoulders were a regular sight by game’s end.
After the final whistle, the outnumbered, orange-clad Virginia supporters roared as players paraded the trophy around the stadium. Touching bottom made reaching the top that much sweeter.
“Had we not won this game, I would have told you that I was as proud of this group as any I’ve been around in some period of time,” Starsia said. “I’m particularly proud right now of everything that these guys have gone through and have been ultimately able to accomplish.”