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Saturday, May 28, 2011
Aussie's offense propels Maryland into finals

By Jane McManus

STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- It was a decade ago that a young lacrosse player in a small Australian town looked beyond the big city lights of nearby Melbourne and dreamed of College Park, Maryland.

Maybe suburban Maryland isn't the stuff of glossy travel magazines, but for 12-year-old Sarah Mollison's purposes, it was perfect.

When Mollison accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland, she recalled to the Sydney Morning Herald what every Australian lacrosse player knows about it -- that the Terrapins win NCAA championships as surely as the tortoise beats the hare.

On Friday, in the first semifinal of the NCAA 2011 Division I women's lacrosse championships at Stony Brook, N.Y., Mollison scored two of Maryland's first three goals in a 14-8 win over No. 5 Duke. After, Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said that the slight-framed Mollison, who's now a senior, dominates the crease. Duke had a plan, just like every team has to scheme the attacker, but the man-to-man coverage only went so far.

"It's as if she's mastered every inch of the crease," Kimel said. "I think that's a pretty fair statement and a compliment."

Top-seeded Maryland advances to play No. 2 Northwestern, who advanced to Sunday's 4 p.m. final with a 11-10 win over No. 3 North Carolina in the late game.

"I do like to play [the crease], it's a strength of mine," Mollison said. "But at the same time, my teammates work with me and I work with them and I think that is what makes us so successful and enables us to beat a team like Duke today by six goals."

To give some idea of how pervasive Maryland's reach is, consider that three of the four coaches in the Final Four played for championship teams at Maryland -- only North Carolina's Jenny Levy played elsewhere on another championship team at Virginia.

Little did Mollison know when she left provincial Yarraville that she would help add to the laurels in Maryland. This will be the 20th NCAA final for the Terrapins, the most in the sport's history. The team is the current defending champ, with 10 NCAA titles to its name. Mollison's four goals in the semifinal game mean she has scored 35 tournament goals, ranking her seventh all-time.

"Coming from Australia, it's a bit of a different style game," Mollison said. "The way I played was embraced and things were changed around the strengths I have."

Maryland coach Cathy Reese said they will recruit anywhere for the right player. Midfielder Laura Merrifield, who had three goals and an assist, is from Hertfordshire, England.

"We want to bring in the right players for our program," Reese said. "People that can come and play our style. We have two of the top international players, and we feel very fortunate for them to come to our program. We have talented players from all over the place, but we just like people to play our style of play. We are a fast team and we like to transition the ball. We like to move it from one end to the other. We went to make sure that any of our seven players on the offensive end are a threat and can score."

Maryland (21-1) made it look easy to start, consolidating a lead early on and leading by as many as eight goals.

"I thought that the Maryland offense did a great job of moving the ball," said Duke goalie Mollie Mackler, who had 10 saves. "They were getting through and got themselves into a nice flow at times."

The second game was a much tighter contest. Northwestern had a 3-0 lead before North Carolina tied it at 4-4 with a little over four minutes to play in the first half. The teams took a 5-5 score into halftime. With 18 seconds left in the game, Northwestern's Shannon Smith won the game with a quick dart to the net through two defenders.

An announced 7,458 people came to watch the matches in Long Island, a place where lacrosse enjoys a deep appreciation. Little girls and their fathers bore sweatshirts from Garden City to the University's Seawolves as they settled in for the doubleheader.