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May 24, 2014

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TOWSON, Md. — Inside Johnny Unitas Stadium, the women’s lacrosse teams from Maryland and Northwestern battled in an NCAA semifinal on a pleasant spring night.

Outside, UVa players and coaches lingered with friends and family members next to the charter bus that would take the team home to Charlottesville.

A memorable season ended Friday for the Cavaliers, whose record after losing to ACC rival Duke on March 22 was 4-6. In danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in Julie Myers‘ 19 seasons as their head coach, the Wahoos instead authored a comeback story that ended with a trip to the Final Four.

“I think we just made an awesome turnaround,” sophomore attacker Kelly Boyd said. “Everyone just decided to put their full heart into it and really try to turn the season around, and I think we did an awesome job just digging in and saying we just really don’t want the season to end the way that it was on track to end.”

After winning five of its final six regular-season games, UVa advanced to the ACC quarterfinals and then, after earning the No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, beat Princeton and third-seeded North Carolina to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2007.

The `Hoos advanced to the NCAA championship game that season. ACC newcomer Syracuse made sure that didn’t happen Friday night. The second-seeded Orange, which beat Virginia 18-14 in Charlottesville on Feb. 23, dominated the rematch, romping 16-8 on in Towson.

“I think they were just incredibly solid,” Myers said. “Not that they were flawless and didn’t make mistakes, but I feel like they made us make way too many mistakes, and they capitalized. They were good in transition, [and on] defense, they were hard to stop offensively.”

Syracuse (21-2), which will meet top-seeded Maryland (22-1) for the NCAA title Sunday night, has two of the five finalists for the women’s Tewaaraton Award, which is given annually to the college game’s best player. Both dazzled Friday night against a UVa defense that was slow to slide.

Senior attacker Alyssa Murray totaled six goals and three assists. Sophomore attacker Kayla Treanon had four goals and three assists. For the season, Treanon, the nation’s leading scorer, has a school-record 77 goals and 37 assists.

“She’s tough,” Myers said. “She’s right-handed, she’s left-handed, she feeds, she scores. She has too many weapons really to limit totally effectively, and she’s got great teammates that are there for her as well.”

Treanor opened the scoring with a goal 55 seconds in, and the Orange quickly extended its lead to 3-0. More than five minutes passed before UVa (12-9) even attempted a shot.

“I thought our focus was very good from the opening whistle,” Syracuse coach Gary Gait said. “The execution was exceptional, and we stuck to our game plan.”

The first of Boyd’s three goals pulled Virginia to 3-1 with 19:28 left in the opening half, but the Orange responded with a 3-0 run. At the half, it was 9-3, and UVa got no closer than five goals in the final 30 minutes.

For the Cavaliers, it was their most one-sided defeat of the season.

“Admittedly we didn’t play great today, but I have to give Syracuse all the credit in the world,” Myers said. “I think they played incredibly well.”

The Orange’s best players, most notably Murray and Treanor, “were impossible to stop,” Myers said.

At the other end of the field, Syracuse all but silenced Virginia’s offensive leaders. The Cavaliers’ top three scorers — attackers Courtney Swan, Liza Blue and Casey Bocklet — entered the game with 142 goals and 62 assists among them. They combined for three points Friday night.

Swan and Bocklet each had a first-half assist, and Blue scored the game’s final goal, with 81 seconds remaining.

Boyd and senior midfielder Maddy Keeshan led the `Hoos with three goals apiece, and sophomore middie Mary Alati had a team-high two assists.

“Our game plan going in,” Swan said, “was to have the perimeter players kind of shuttle the ball and to open those seams, so the middle girls, like Maddy and Kelly, could get those open looks. But we got more pushed out than we would have liked to. So the feeds inside that were open in practice were not as open.”

And so ended a season Myers compared to the unpredictable weather the `Hoos had to endure all semester.

Mother Nature gave Charlottesville “a little bit of everything, and our team kind of went through everything too,” Myers said. “But what we ended up doing was really coming together and learning what a team is all about and learning how to make the little things fun, even the challenges that you think are impossible.”

Keeshan said: “I guess I couldn’t really have asked for a better way to go out. I love the girls on the team this year. I’ve loved them every year, and I love Virginia. It’s always tough to lose in the end, but I think we fought really hard, and we definitely put our heart into [it].”

Among the seniors Myers will have to replace are All-American goalie Liz Colgan, defender Lauren Goerz and Keeshan. They were instrumental in helping the `Hoos return to an event at which they were regulars for years.

In Myers’ first 12 seasons as head coach at her alma mater, the Cavaliers advanced to the Final Four seven times. In six of those seasons Virginia reached the championship game, winning in 2004.

“I think the fourth-years — Maddy, Liz and all of them — did a great job of really re-establishing Virginia lacrosse and putting us back in that Final Four map and discussion,” Myers said.

“I think they left a great legacy, so when I’m ready to look to next year, I’ll feel pretty good about it, because I know that the fourth-years did a great job of leaving their mark and teaching the girls what hard work is and what good attitudes can do and just that there’s nothing in the world that they can’t do.”

Cavaliers with eligibility remaining include Swan, Blue, Bocklet, Boyd, Alati, and defenders Morgan Stephens, Kelsey Gahan and Wyatt Whitley. Swan and Stephens were second-team All-Americans this season, and Blue was named to the third team.

Moreover, Myers said, attacker Dana Boyle plans to return as a fifth-year senior in 2015. Boyle, who made the All-ACC team in 2013, missed this season with an injury.

Swan expects the returning players to benefit from this postseason experience.

“Having been to the Final Four, it’s great for the underclassmen,” she said, “just to know that this is where we should be playing every year and that we should be playing this late in the season. Bringing Virginia lacrosse back is something great, and we’re going to keep it where it should be.”

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