CHESTER, Pa. -- For the second time in four years, the Maryland women's lacrosse team came into Sunday's national title game looking to lock up a perfect season with an NCAA championship.
And just as before, North Carolina altered the storyline in stunning fashion. The Tar Heels are national champions after doing to opponents what the Terrapins have done all year -- dominate -- in a 13-7 victory in balmy Talen Energy Stadium.
The largest margin of defeat for Maryland since 2007 was an unthinkable way for the Terrapins to conclude a season that seemed on pace to be the fifth undefeated season in school history.
"They were what, 22-0?" North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said.
"And 1," corrected midfielder Molly Hendrick, who, like her teammates, wore remnants of the shredded net underneath her national championship cap.
"I'd say there was 1 percent belief out there that we would pull this off, and that was in our locker room," said Levy. Seven players on her roster played in the 2013 championship. That one, decided in triple overtime, gave UNC its first national title.
No last-second heroics were needed this Memorial Day weekend. Credit goalkeeper Megan Ward for the lack of drama. Her career-high 14 saves frustrated a Terrapins team that averaged 17 goals and had scored 51 in its three previous tournament games. Ward, also in cage for that win three years ago, wasn't even flustered by free-position shots, allowing just one goal on six attempts.
"It's been a long time since I've sat up here on this podium," the gleeful senior said during her postgame interview. Used only in relief the past two seasons for Caylee Waters, the youngest goalie on the U.S. national team, Ward started the second half of the season and made 22 saves in this NCAA tournament.
She got the start Sunday, something of a surprise to her, she said, since Waters bailed Carolina out in relief on Friday after Ward allowed five straight goals against Penn State.
"Knowing her connection with her senior class on the field was very strong emotionally," Levy said. "We like to tap into our players' emotions and not get too technical in X's and O's, but how they feel that day."
"She played lights-out tonight," Hendrick said of Ward. "She always comes up big when we need her, which is awesome. Same with the whole defense, which was causing turnovers."
Ward passed along the praise to the defense in front of her.
"They made my job easier," said Ward, the pocket of her stick seemingly a magnet for a Maryland offense generally on target. "They were unbelievable."
Her final save denied Maryland's all-everything player, Taylor Cummings, who has lost four games in her career (two in championship games to North Carolina) while collecting every accolade imaginable (including two Tewaaraton awards).
Red-eyed, Cummings teared up during a postgame press conference made more painful as she and coach Cathy Reese had to speak over an exuberant Tar Heels rendition of "Dog Days Are Over," the Florence + The Machine song, that is a team favorite. The Tar Heels crooned giddily in an adjacent room.
"They're better. I am sad that's the way my class went out and that was my last game," said Cummings, her voice trailing off with each word. "But I couldn't have been more thankful to be part of this, and I'm just happy to be a Terp."
Aly Messinger, named the NCAA championship's most outstanding player, finished with two goals and four assists for North Carolina, which also got a hat trick from Hendrick and scores from Carly Reed, Ela Hazar, Devin Markison, Marie McCool and Sammy Jo Tracy.
Tracy and McCool were both brilliant on the draw over Cummings, among the top draw specialists in the game. The Tar Heels pair accounted for 10 of North Carolina's 13 draw controls; Cummings controlled just four of Maryland's nine.
North Carolina led for all but the initial 1:51 and scored in bunches -- a 6-0 run in the first half and a 5-0 run in the second that kept the Terps playing catch-up all day.
A comeback seemed inevitable when Cummings scored her lone goal of the afternoon to bring Maryland within 7-6. A year ago, Maryland fell behind 6-3 at the break before rallying to beat the Tar Heels 9-8 in the title game.
But back-to-back scores from North Carolina in a mere 15 seconds obliterated the Maryland momentum and quieted the enthusiastic Maryland section among a crowd announced at 7,129.
"We were hoping we could turn it around like we did last year," Cummings said. "Unfortunately, we didn't. Carolina played us really tough. They found open seams. They made their chances count, and we didn't. Megan Ward played unbelievable. When you play against a goalie that's hot, you got to move her, and we didn't. That was our chance and we kind of missed it."
The Tar Heels (20-2) finish having won a school-record 17 straight, with seven of those decided by one goal. Their two losses were also one-goal contests and consecutive: against Florida on Feb. 20 followed by an 8-7 decision to the Terps.
Gutting out those wins against opponents that included national semifinalist Syracuse twice, Duke, Northwestern and, most recently, Penn State on Friday, snowballed into confidence for the Tar Heels, now 4-1 against Maryland in the national tournament.
"We had 100 percent confidence and belief in ourselves," said Messinger, who hyped up the Tar Heels with a rousing halftime speech, reminding her teammates that the choice to win belonged to them. "There was no question it was going to happen. We were going to make it happen."
Cummings walked off the field after embracing sophomore Megan Whittle, who led Maryland with a hat trick. The senior quickly found Reese, who embraced her and defender Alice Mercer in a three-way hug. The Terps were vying for their 14th national title.
"At the end of the day, with all of this you can't let 60 minutes define you," said Reese, whose Terps were the top-ranked team all season.
But for North Carolina, the final game summed up the season exactly as Levy planned: "The 2016 season is owned by the 2016 team, and they drove the bus all year."
Added Messinger, "We had the team to win the national championship and that's what we did."