Lacrosse, a sport founded by the Haudenosaunee Native American tribe in 1100, has now become a global sport with a historic 29 countries participating in the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship in 2022. The sport has gained popularity both worldwide, with lacrosse returning to the Olympics in 2028, and nationally in the United States, with the Sixes discipline (a faster-paced version with fewer players in a 6 v 6) and box lacrosse being included in the U.S. national teams. While the senior women’s national team and Athletes Unlimited professional league do garner a dedicated following whenever they play, National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I lacrosse has stayed at the forefront of the sport for those watching. 

The first NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship was played in 1982, and there have already been eras established with different teams dominating at different points in time. When looking at the championship history of women’s college lacrosse, there is a pair of teams that stand out purely because of the number of national titles they each have. These two powerhouse programs are the University of Maryland and Northwestern University. 

Maryland Lacrosse has been a strong program since the induction of lacrosse into the NCAA. The Terrapins played in seven championship games in the first 13 years of the sport in Division I, winning two of them. Then, under head coach Cindy Timchal, the program won every national championship game from 1995 to 2001. This was the first time any team had won back-to-back championships, and they did it seven times in a row. The program that was once a staple on championship weekend then only made two semifinal appearances in eight years — the same two years during this time where they received an automatic bid from winning their conference championship. However, this Maryland program was not done dominating the field yet. After a change in leadership to current head coach Cathy Reese, Maryland was able to make their way through the brackets and back into the championship weekend. They have appeared in eight championship games since 2010 and have won five of them, raising their national championship game wins to a total of 14, the most of any women’s lacrosse program.  

Right after Maryland’s era of dominance, another program cemented itself into women’s collegiate lacrosse history. This team was the Northwestern Wildcats, a relatively new program that was resurrected in 2002 under head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller after being dissolved for nine years. Hiller was able to build the Northwestern program from the ground up into an unstoppable program. The Wildcats won their first national championship in 2005 with an undefeated season only three years later. The program then went on to win six additional national championships in the next seven years, for a total of seven national titles in eight championship game appearances from 2005 to 2012. Just like the Terrapins, Northwestern struggled to make it back to championship weekend, suffering heartbreaking semi-final losses in 2013, 2014 and 2019 to 2022, with the most devastating loss coming in 2022 against the University of North Carolina. Northwestern controlled the game for the first 50 minutes, leading by seven points going into the fourth quarter until UNC responded with eight unanswered goals in the last ten minutes to win the game 14-15. However, the Wildcats came back for the following 2023 season with vengeance. After losing their opening game against Syracuse University by one point, Northwestern held a 21-game win streak that carried through their conference and national championship tournaments, giving the program their eighth national title – their first one in a decade.

While these two programs might not have the same number of national championships to show for it, both the North Carolina and Boston College lacrosse teams have also become household names with their successes in regular season, conference and national tournaments. The Tar Heels and Eagles have consistently been impressive with their star players, quality of play, and ability to peak at the right times.

Since 2009, UNC has appeared in five championship games, winning three of them, all under head coach Jenny Levy who also coaches the U.S. National Team. The Tar Heels won their most recent national title in 2022 with an undefeated season, going 22-0. The picture-perfect season also graduated a stacked class of fifth-year and graduate students, four of whom were drafted to go professional with Athletes Unlimited and seven of whom ended up playing professionally– the most out of any school that year. Even though the Tar Heels’s starting lineup the following season relied heavily on freshman stars and upperclassmen who may not have gotten a lot of playing time previously, the young North Carolina team was ranked fourth and was able to finish in the quarterfinals of the national championship tournament.      

Unlike the previous three teams, BC only made their first appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2011 and did not make it past the quarterfinals until 2017. However, head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein has been able to transform the Eagles into a well-known program, consistently associated with championship weekend. They have played in the championship game every single year since 2017. The program had never won a tournament game before she became head coach. The BC team ended up losing three national titles in a row to Maryland in 2017 and 2019 and James Madison University in 2018. With the team’s three best players, also known as the ‘triplets,’ graduating in 2019, it seemed unlikely that the inexperienced 2021 team would make it back to compete for a national title. Only two players who played in that previous championship game were left on the roster after the 2020 season was canceled due to Covid. Going into championship weekend ranked fourth, the Eagles proved everyone wrong and left as the 2021 national champions, their first in program history. The Eagles have returned to every championship game since, but have fallen to the greats of UNC and Northwestern.    

While every new season is unique, these four teams seem to have cemented themselves as strong and consistent programs in women’s Division 1 lacrosse that are respected and can be expected to do great things in the future.