For 17-straight seasons, the Terps have appeared in the NCAA Championship tournament. But in 2002, Maryland men’s lacrosse didn’t make the cut.
Maryland has been a staple in the NCAA Championship for nearly two decades, and the program was similarly strong in the years prior. Since the inception of the NCAA Division I Tournament in 1971, the Terps have only missed the contest seven times (1980, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1999, 2002).
The expectation is Maryland will play in the postseason in 2021, which would make 18-consecutive trips to the tournament. But this isn’t about the Terps’ future or present. This is about 2002 Maryland lacrosse – the last time the team was on the outside looking in.
When Was the Last Time: 2002 Maryland Lacrosse Misses Tournament
The 2001 squad finished the season 13-3 (2-1) and split the ACC regular season title. It ended as the No. 3 team in the nation and earned a bye to the NCAA Championship Quarterfinals, but No. 6 seed Towson stopped the Terps there, 12-11.
Maryland entered the 2002 men’s lacrosse season ranked No. 6 as it returned defender Michael Howley (2001 Second Team All-American), attackman Dan LaMonica (25 goals and 51 points in 2001). middie Mike LaMonica (15 goals and 20 points in 2001), attackman Mike Mollot (2001 Honorable Mention All-American) and more, bringing back six-total starters from the previous campaign.
Maryland opened its 2002 lacrosse season with a couple home wins over No. 23 Hobart, 13-6, and Mount St. Mary’s, 18-0, which was the program’s first shutout in 32 years – a 19-0 blanking of Duke on April 20, 1970. The Blue Devils would exact revenge against the Terps days after they reupped their shutout stats.
On March 2, No. 9 Duke delivered Maryland its first loss, dispatching the Terps in double overtime, 9-8. The contest was tight throughout, and for the last 2:02 of the fourth quarter and both overtimes, the teams had to play without a scoreboard as the weather caused technical problems. With eight seconds remaining in regulation, Duke’s Kevin Casses scored to equalize, then Matt Monfett completed his team’s two-goal fourth quarter comeback with a score with just two ticks to go in the second OT.
Maryland would win its next four games, first handling No. 5 Towson, 15-10, behind five goals from Mollot. The offense looked improved from its outing versus Duke as the LaMonica combined for 30 shots, bettering all of Towson’s 28 attempts.
“I really thought our offense worked well,” Maryland head coach Dave Cottle said. “We had lots of opportunities and were able to spread the ball around and put it in the net a lot.”
Next, Maryland steamrolled Bucknell and Delaware by a combined score of 32-11. On March 23, the No. 5 Terps traveled to Chapel Hill for their second ACC game against No. 9 North Carolina, this time utilizing their defense to keep the Tar Heels at bay, 7-5. Maryland found itself down, 3-2, at halftime, but a 4-0 run after the break gave the Terps a lead they would not relinquish.
The Losses Begin
The Terps entered their final ACC regular season date, a home challenge from No. 2 Virginia, with a 6-1 (1-1) mark and No. 5 ranking. They left the game with another blemish on their record as the Cavs edged Maryland, 11-10. Maryland was held scoreless for almost 18 minutes in the second period and stretching into the second half. The Terps rallied late as Nate Watkins scored with 2:55 to go to bring his team within one. But that would be the final goal of the game, and Maryland was stuck licking its wounds.
The team responded by beating No. 16 Navy, 6-5, at home, the fourth-straight season the Terps won the meeting with the Midshipmen by that scoreline. Mike Morsell had three goals and an assists as the defense again stood tall, holding Navy to just 17 shots.
The War in Baltimore came next on April 13 as No. 6 Maryland traveled north to take on No. 3 Johns Hopkins. In the 2002 renewal of the rivalry, the Blue Jays narrowly came out on top, 9-8, with a goal from Kyle Barrie with 1:45 to play in overtime securing their victory. Maryland led for most of the game but never by more than three. Hopkins held the Terps to just one goal in the final 27:32 of the contest, including overtime, and it led to Maryland’s demise.
Six days later, Maryland was in Durham for the semifinals of the 2002 ACC Tournament. No. 12 Duke awaited, and in similar fashion to weeks earlier, the Blue Devils outlasted Maryland by one goal in overtime. Maryland held a 5-3 advantage at the break, but Duke had that erased by early in the fourth period and took its own lead with a Kevin Brennan score with 10:04 to play in regulation. Maryland’s Mollot scored with 1:58 left on the clock to even the game at 7-7, but with just four seconds to go in overtime, Duke’s Matt Rewkowski potted a man-up goal to send the Blue Devils to the final.
Maryland Makes Its Case
No. 10 Maryland bounced back with a 14-8 triumph over No. 13 Yale in its next outing. Watkins scored a career-high six goals on the day, and Mollot had three goals and three assists of his own. The game was tight at half, 5-5, but a third period offensive explosion from Maryland was good for six goals, and Yale coulnd’t respond. To close the 2002 men’s lacrosse season, Maryland dispatched of UMBC, 19-9, as Mike LaMonica had six goals and eight points in what would be his final game as a Terp.
Cottle made his case for postseason selection after the victory.
“If we had lost today, it wouldn’t been about us,” he explained. “We think we’re one of the best six teams in the country. Now, it’s up to the NCAA committee to decide. All of our games through April were one-point games. To win today by over 10 goals, that was our goal. We played the way we wanted to play. Again, we feel we are one of the best six teams in this country.”
The committee did not agree, though. Maryland did not receive an at-large bid and missed the NCAA Championship for the first time since 1999. The Terps have qualified for every NCAA Championship tournament since.