FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — As tears streamed down Maryland women's lacrosse midfielder Zoe Stukenberg's cheeks, she couldn't wipe the grin off her face.
While describing her four years as a Terp — during which she won three national championships, co-captained the team for two seasons and became a finalist for this year's Tewaaraton Award — Stukenberg choked up, overcome with emotion after defeating Boston College, 16-13, to win the NCAA title on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Coach Cathy Reese sat next to her, soaking wet from the traditional celebratory ice shower. She had just won her eighth national championship combined between her time as a player and head coach at Maryland.
As Stukenberg went on, Reese began to weep too. She jokingly put on sunglasses to divert attention from her tears.
"I'm good at crying these days," Reese said, still smiling.
For a Maryland program with six more NCAA championships than any other Division I women's lacrosse team, winning shouldn't be a surprise. But the 2017 Terps didn't coast to the title, and that was evident in their joy after winning it.
Their loss to North Carolina in last season's title game lingered as an unsaid entity, Reese admitted, while they coped with the graduation of two of the program's greatest-ever players, midfielder Taylor Cummings and defender Alice Mercer.
Cummings was a three-time Tewaaraton winner, while Mercer finished as a finalist for the honor last season while being named Big Ten and IWLCA Defender of the Year. The two were four-year starters who won two of the four national championships they appeared in.
Stukenberg, who was a co-captain with the pair of Terp greats, acknowledged the doubts about the team after losing Cummings and Mercer. However, she kept faith in her teammates' ability to overcome adversity.
"I always get asked this question, like, 'What do you do to instill confidence in younger players?' and, 'You have such a young team, how do they play with such poise?'" Stukenberg said. "Nadine [Hadnagy] and I always answer that this is an easy group to lead … They're the greatest group."
The current batch of athletes had never been ranked below No. 1, but they entered the season as the second-ranked team. Still, they completed the program's first undefeated campaign since 2001.
Though the Terps' record went unblemished, they faced numerous challenges.
Maryland faced nine ranked teams, plus two who had received votes at the time. They defeated then-No. 1 North Carolina in February and took down four more top-10 opponents throughout the regular season.
Wins over No. 4 Stony Brook, No. 6 Penn State and No. 12 Boston College in the tournament extended the Terps' dominance.
Before the season, Reese explained her desire to play the best teams in the country. The Terps proved their mettle by eventually beating them all.
"To take down Maryland is like slaying a dragon," Boston College coach Acacia Walker said. "We knew what we were going up against."
However, a telling example of the Terps' success is not a statistic. It's the way the team views itself and how players carry themselves and support one another. They adopted a mantra of focusing on one game at a time.
Reese laughed as she described Stukenberg asking her if they had just gone undefeated after their victory Sunday. The perfect season went unmentioned, and Reese felt the players were oblivious to it, keeping their minds on the common goal instead.
"It's all about us this year," freshman midfielder Kali Hartshorn said. "It's been our motto, and we really went out and we did do us. We were behind each other 110 percent. I just love these girls, they're just my best friends."
There's a strong bond among players and coaches as Stukenberg explained the Terps are "not just lacrosse players" to Reese or to each other. Reese said there is "more to life than lacrosse," and players like Stukenberg and others in her class exemplify that and strengthen the team bond.
The Terps will bid farewell to Stukenberg and fellow co-captain and Tewaaraton finalist, defender Nadine Hadnagy. Along with them, starting attacker Caroline Wannen, defender Morgan Torggler and five more seniors are set to depart.
They leave behind a legacy of just three losses in four years, countered with three national titles. They never lost a game in College Park.
Perhaps most importantly to them, though, they continued the program's tradition of excellence and community, culminating in Sunday's championship victory.
"This is more than a lacrosse team," Stukenberg said as her eyes welled up. "This is a family, and this was everything I ever dreamed or hoped for.
"This was way more."