Matt Rambo is heading into his fourth championship weekend for the Maryland men's lacrosse team, and while the setting has changed, the magnitude has not.
"It's an awesome experience for everyone, especially the younger guys," said Rambo, a Glenside native. "You don't know if you'll ever get to championship weekend because it's so hard to get to. I'm going to probably take this in."
A La Salle High graduate, Rambo has savored this stage before, but it has only ended in heartbreak. Since their last title in 1975, the Terps have lost nine NCAA championship games, including four of the last six, a painful streak for one of the sport's most successful programs.
Rambo has one last opportunity to end it this weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The Terrapins play Denver in the semifinals on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. while Ohio State and Towson await on the other side of the bracket. The championship is Monday at 1 p.m.
The Terps' most recent NCAA championship setback ended in overtime last May at Lincoln Financial Field against North Carolina and an old friend of Rambo's named Austin Pifani. The two played together at the Abington Lacrosse Club, and Rambo remembers congratulating Pifani, the Tar Heels' captain, after the 14-13 decision.
"He won it," Rambo said. "I'm happy for him. What I remember is that we lost. We didn't get it done."
It has been a familiar takeaway throughout the Terps' history, and once more Maryland will turn to Rambo in an effort to reverse it. A finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the best player in the country, Rambo has 40 goals and 43 assists this season. He's Maryland's all-time points leader - a testament, in the eyes of La Salle coach Bill Leahy, to Rambo's development as an all-around player.
Last year, he became the first player in Maryland history to score 40 goals and 30 assists in a season.
"You just knew he was going to be something special if he didn't get hurt, and he really hasn't," Leahy said.
It won't be in Philadelphia, Rambo's favorite city, but he's excited for another chance anyway. Asked what he hopes to remember from this weekend, Rambo said he wants to play as hard as he can.
Leahy, a Maryland native, was more straightforward: "You hope for him to win it."
More local ties
The Penn State women's lacrosse team makes its second straight trip to the NCAA semifinals this weekend and will take on top-seeded Maryland on Friday at 5 p.m. in Foxborough. The other semifinal pits Boston College against Navy at 7:30. The championship game is Sunday at 11 a.m.
The Nittany Lions have a strong Philadelphia contingent. Four of their players (junior Katie O'Donnell, freshman Hayley DeAgostine, freshman Shannon Moore, and sophomore Katie Garvey) are from West Chester, and two (senior Natalie Schmitt and sophomore Lucy Haubold) are from Malvern. Other local products are senior Cat Rainone (Newtown Square), sophomore Reilly Masterson (Radnor), freshman Kristen Knaff (Exton), and junior Bridget Chakey (Havertown).
O'Donnell is the state's all-time high school goal scorer with 430. She has scored 138 in three years at Penn State, 10th in school history. Rainone is the starting goalkeeper, with a 10.24 goals-against average and a .479 save percentage. Schmitt has also started every game this season for the Nittany Lions.