NCAA women's lacrosse preview: Terps and Blue Devils face off for Final Four berth

USA TODAY Sports

Just as they did in 2013, Maryland looks to end Duke's season in the NCAA quarterfinals. A win would propel the Terps to their sixth consecutive Final Four.

The magic number is three. Three wins stand between the Maryland women's lacrosse team and their first National Championship since 2010. And for many Maryland fans, a national title in 2014 will hold an extra dose of sweetness because it would some at the expense of two ACC foes. They take on the first of those, the Duke Blue Devils, on Saturday at noon at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park. The second would come in the NCAA championship game.

I know the sports cliche is all about taking things one game at a time. But I'm a writer so looking ahead is part of what I do. If the Terps beat Duke in College Park on Saturday, they will face the winner of the game between Florida and Northwestern. The four teams on the other side of the bracket are all members of the ACC - Boston College, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia.

I'll get down to the business of focusing on Duke in a moment but before I do, I want those of you who read this to take a deep breath while we savor the greatness that is Maryland women's lacrosse. This year marks their twenty-fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and they have won at least one game in twenty-three of them. Since 2000, the Terps have three National Championships, have twice been runner-up and have played in the Final Four three other times. Should they win on Saturday, it will mark the ninth time in this century's fifteen years that the women's lacrosse team has reached the National Championship weekend. Oh, and they can count nine ACC Championships in that span including the last six seasons.

How they got here

Duke needed two wins to reach the quarterfinals and they had to travel to Notre Dame to do it. They opened their run with a 13-8 win over Stanford and then bested the Fighting Irish 10-8 on their home field. The Blue Devils built a 6-2 lead on the strength of a five goal run that spanned the final thirteen minutes of the first half and the first four and a half minutes of the second. Though the Irish are a feisty squad and closed within one, the home team couldn't quite get over the hump and Duke moved on improving their record to 11-7 on the season.

As the top seed, the Terps, had a first round bye. They advanced to Saturday's quarterfinal match-up with a 13-5 win over Penn while improving their record to 20-1 on the season. The Terrapins and Quakers had met in March with Maryland prevailing 15-5 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. After not competing for the two weeks following their win in the ACC Tournament, the Terps shook off their rust, scored in bursts, and held the Quakers at bay to grab a spot in the final eight.

A familiar situation

Sure, I could have called this section "A familiar foe part 2" because, as it was with Penn, Saturday's game between Maryland and Duke will be a rematch of a regular season game. The Terps won this one 19-10 in Durham. However, the game is also a rematch of a game played Saturday, May 18, 2013 in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals in College Park. The Terps won that one 14-9 after beating the Blue Devils 15-6 in the regular season.

In the game at Duke this season Maryland ran out to a 5-0 lead with Beth Glaros netting the first of her two hat tricks for the game in the first seven minutes and forty-five seconds. After falling behind by seven, Duke made a run scoring five straight over a thirteen minute span that bridged the two halves. WIth the score at 9-7, the Terrapins responded by scoring six in a row and ten of the last thirteen goals in the game.

What to watch for

In their regular season contest, Maryland dominated Duke in the draw circle holding a 21-9 advantage. The Terps have generally controlled this aspect of the game throughout the season averaging 7.5 more than their opponents. Against Penn, in their first game NCAA Tournament game, Maryland's Taylor Cummings used her height to great advantage winning 10 draws herself while the Terps won seventeen of twenty overall. Cummings will not have this advantage against the Blue Devils as Kerrin Maurer is nearly as tall. Expect Duke to crash the circle to try to narrow this gap in draws and limit Maryland's opportunities.

The Blue Devils are a fairly potent offensive squad scoring nearly thirteen times per game. However, after the drubbing they took in Durham, and given that tournament games are generally played against better defenses and at a more deliberate pace a slow paced game would be unsurprising.

One key for the Terrapins will be controlling draws and getting out to a lead. In their game against Notre Dame, Duke demonstrated that they are quite capable of exploiting the bane of the women's game (in my opinion) - the lack of any type of shot clock. After opening a mere two goal lead with about eight and a half minutes to play, they held the ball for nearly five boredom inducing minutes before attacking the goal.

Who to watch for

Like Maryland, Duke has a player who is at or near the top in many of her team's statistical categories. That player is number 9, Kerrin Maurer. The 5'6" junior leads the Blue Devils in goals with 55, assists with 29 and her 54 draw controls also lead the team. In addition, she is third in ground balls scooping up 26 in Duke's eighteen games thus far this season. Maurer scores nearly one of every four Duke goals and picks up an assist on over seventeen percent of the remaining scores. In the game on the first of March, the Terrapins' defense held her to two goals and one assist.

Unlike Maryland, Duke does not have another player who is a consistent threat to score let alone the options B, C, or D that the Terps have. After Maurer, the Blue Devils' scoring is balanced but drops off considerably. Number 14, Taylor Trimble is Duke's second leading scorer with 32 goals. Trimble did pick up four of the Devils' nine draw controls in the first game.

When you write about Maryland, you write about balance. Duke has one fifty plus goal scorer. Maryland has three: #11 Brooke Griffin (56), #6 Kelly McPartland (54), and #21 Taylor Cummings (54). The Terps also have Beth Glaros (#20) with 44 goals. In fact, Maryland's fifth leading goal producer, freshman Zoe Stukenberg who wears number 15, has the same number of goals as Trimble.

And, of course, the Terrapins also have balance on defense. That balance begins with ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Tewaaraton Award finalist Megan Douty and ends with goalie Abbey Clipp. But those two have ample and able assistance from Alice Mercer, Nadine Hadnagy, and Shanna Brady.

But for the moment, it's time to veer away from the theme of balance and wax poetic about one Maryland star - Taylor Cummings. Only a sophomore, Cummings is also a Tewaaraton finalist and may be the best all-around player in the country. Before her career as a Terp is finished, she will likely be in the conversation for greatest of all time.

On perhaps the best team in the country, Cummings is tied for second in goals scored, is second in assists, and leads the team in ground balls, draw controls, and caused turnovers. Here's a bit of perspective: As noted above, Megan Douty is the the ACC Defensive POTY. Douty has 18 caused turnovers. Cummings has 28. Douty has 30 ground balls. Cummings has 34. With 111, Cummings accounts for a third of Maryland's draw controls. And control also describes what she does in the middle of the field for the Terps. For those who read my story about Katie O'Donnell and might have thought, "Even though I don't know a thing about field hockey, this is a player I regret not seeing," I suggest you spare yourselves that regret and come see Taylor Cummings. (And fellow TT writer Patrick Donohue can step up and confirm how exciting and dynamic Cummings is to watch.)

Wrapping it up

Once again, this is a game Maryland should win. The factors that could keep the game close are if Duke finds a way to neutralize Maryland's dominance in the draw circle, if the Blue Devils can open a two or three goal lead and attempt to stall the game away, and if they can ride a hot Kelsey Duryea in goal to slow down Maryland's scoring.

In the game in Durham, the Terps launched forty shots and put 32 of those on goal. In addition to controlling draws, Duke will also emphasize limiting Maryland's shot attempts. In that first game, Duryea, who frequently has big save numbers against Maryland, came away with thirteen saves. Thus far in the  NCAA Tournament  Duryea had nine saves against Stanford and eleven against Notre Dame. Two elements that could give Maryland an edge are their familiarity with Duryea - facing her for essentially the fourth time in two seasons - and the Terps' second round game against Penn. Quakers' goalie, Lucy Ferguson, like Duryea, is tall. Maryland should be able to extrapolate those two factors to find the back of the net enough to win the game and earn a sixth consecutive trip to the final weekend.

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