Historic weekend in Philly for North Carolina lacrosse

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University of North Carolina players celebrate their NCAA championship victory over the University of Maryland on Monday, May 30, 2016, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

IT WAS a Final Four weekend like no other in NCAA lacrosse history. The same two schools had never played each other for both the men's and women's Division I titles.

When it was done, the University of North Carolina had pulled off a championship sweep at the expense of the University of Maryland - its former rival in the Atlantic Coast Conference that moved to the Big Ten in 2014.

On Sunday, UNC and Maryland met for the third time in four years in the women's national championship game.

The Tar Heels avenged last year's loss and ended the Terps' undefeated season with a 13-7 victory at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester. Both of UNC's titles have come over Maryland in the Philadelphia region. The Heels beat the Terps at Villanova Stadium in 2013.

Technically, since Maryland (22-1) was the top seed and two-time defending champion, second-seeded North Carolina (20-2) pulled off an upset.

On Monday at Lincoln Financial Field, the UNC men put together a bigger one.

Facing the dire strait of being a man down to start sudden-death overtime, Carolina got a huge save from goalie Brian Balkam and Chris Cloutier scored his fifth goal as the Tar Heels prevailed, 14-13, to capture their fifth NCAA title and first since 1991.

When the selections for the men's tournament were held, Carolina's ticket to the tournament was iffy, but the unseeded Tar Heels (12-6) got in and then beat Marquette, Notre Dame and Loyola (Md.) to reach the title game against top-seeded Maryland (17-3).

Carolina had not advanced to the Final Four since 1993 and this particular squad did not seem likely to end that drought.

When the opportunity presented itself, however, the Tar Heels made the most of it and became the first unseeded team to win a Division I title.

The championship game was the 11th to go into overtime, the first since Duke beat Notre Dame in 2010. The 27 goals were the most scored in a title game since Syracuse beat Navy, 14-13, in 2004.

"A lot of hard work and belief, trust in one another," said North Carolina coach and alumni Joe Breschi. "It's been an incredible journey. I'm just thrilled for these young men and all they've meant to this program and for the University of North Carolina.

"My hat's off to a terrific Maryland team - two great teams going at it. It's not easy to prepare in two days. And it was all about heart, hustle and desire, and these guys have never quit. Their backs were against the wall often, and they kept battling to the end and they believed in each other.

"It was just fun to watch."

Carolina survived being a man short to begin overtime when Balkam stopped a shot by Connor Kelly. The Heels got their own extra-man opportunity when Mike McCarney was called for a cross-check during a scramble for a loose ball after Terps goalie Kyle Bernlohr had stopped a shot.

Cloutier had 14 goals during the weekend, including nine against Loyola in the semifinals. The sophomore from Kitchener, Ontario, was voted Most Outstanding Player.

"Coming here on Friday I didn't know what to expect," said Cloutier, who set a record with 19 goals in a single tournament. "I'd never been in a national championship before. I couldn't sleep on Friday night.

"Everyone was just ready to go. There wasn't that much pressure on us being an unseeded team. We owned that.

"I was telling my friends earlier that everyone on this team believed that we could absolutely do it this year. Getting here and being able to have the end of the season that we did is truly amazing."

By taking two trophies back to Chapel Hill, North Carolina joins Princeton in 1994 as the only programs to win the men's and women's Division I titles in the same year.

Maryland's women could take some solace in the fact they had won the title in 2014 and 2015.

The Terrapin men, however, saw the gorilla sitting on the program's shoulder get another year older. Maryland last won the NCAA men's championship in 1975. The Terps lost to Denver last year in the title game at the Linc, and also fell in the final in 2012 (Loyola) and 2011 (Virginia).

In the 41 years since its last title, Maryland has lost nine times in the championship game and 10 times in the national semifinals.

It was another frustrating end to a season for the Terrapins, who are 2-11 all-time in championship games.

"As a young coach, I wasn't sure I was ever going to get (to a title game)," said Maryland's John Tillman, who is now 0-4 in title games. "So I don't take it for granted.

"The closer you get, the harder it is when you lose. But sometimes you have to step back. You've just got to reflect, learn and eventually pick yourself up and kick-start it.

"You have to help the kids get through these next couple of days and then keep moving. There's a lot of adversity and obstacles in life and you've got to be able to deal with it."


smallwj@phillynews.com

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