The Maryland women's lacrosse team will take their first step along the path they hope will lead to the program's twelfth national championship and first since 2010 when they take on the Penn Quakers in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament Sunday afternoon in College Park. Sunday will be the second tournament game for Penn while the Terps will be playing for the first time after receiving a first round bye as the top overall seed.
How they got here
Penn enters Sunday's game with a 13-4 record. After tying Princeton for the regular season title, the Quakers avenged (in the friendliest way, of course) their only conference loss by defeating the Tigers 9-6 to win the Ivy League Tournament securing the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in the process. The Quakers advanced to the second round with a 9-4 win over Canisius Friday afternoon.
Though they played in an expectedly deliberate style of offense in Friday's win, Penn truly impressed on the defensive side of the field. Canisius, while they admittedly hadn't faced the stiffest competition, entered the game as the nations thirteenth best scoring offense tallying just under fourteen goals per game. The Golden Griffins weren't crisp and as a result found themselves stifled by the Quakers' defense. Penn features Ivy League defender of the year Meg Markham but the true standout Friday was Taylor Foussadier who marked the Golden Griffins' leading scorer, Maria Kotas, for most of the game. Though the senior midfielder and MAAC Tournament MVP managed two second half goals, Foussadier held Kotas scoreless for the first thirty-five and a half minutes providing Penn ample time to build their five goal lead.
Maryland, 19-1 on the season, enters the tournament as the regular season and tournament champions of the ACC - a conference that placed seven of its eight teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Terps ran through Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Syracuse to capture their eleventh and final ACC Championship. A 17-15 loss at North Carolina in early April stands as the only blemish on the Terrapins' season.
A familiar foe
Over the course of the season, Penn has proven themselves to be a quality squad. All of their four losses have come to teams in the NCAA field of twenty-six. They came up short against North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, and Maryland.
On March 19, the Terps took a 9-0 record to Franklin Field in Philadelphia to face the Quakers. When the rainy Wednesday night game ended, Maryland left the city of brotherly love with a 10-0 record on the heels of a dominating 15-5 win. The Terps scored twice before the game was two minutes old and had a 4-0 lead before the Quakers finally penetrated Maryland's defense for their first score. Responding with another barrage of goals, the Terrapins ran off five straight eventually taking a 9-2 halftime lead. Brooke Griffin, Beth Glaros and Bryn Boucher all registered hat tricks for the Terps in the win. If you're truly interested (or oddly obsessed), you can read my detailed recap here.
What to watch for
Averaging nine goals per game, Penn is far from an offensive powerhouse. The Quakers are inclined to play in a deliberate style relying on ball control - they commit just 4.5 turnovers per game - and defense, where they cause about nine turnovers per game, to keep games low scoring and close. This season five of their thirteen wins have been by one or two goals and they've won five times when scoring fewer than ten. The Quakers have scored ten or more goals in only eight of their seventeen contests. By contrast, the Terps have failed to reach ten goals only once in twenty games.
Expect Maryland to attempt to assert their dominance in the draw. As a team, Penn wins about eight draws per game - just three more than the Terrapins' Taylor Cummings averages on her own. In their three non-conference losses, the Ivy League champs won only 13 of 56 draws. On the season, Penn's opponents have won 34 more draws than the Quakers. Winning draws and scoring early could be a key to an easy Maryland win.
While ineffective on draws, the Quakers are very good on the ground - picking up nearly fifteen per game. Against the Terps, each side picked up twelve ground balls. They are also adept in preventing their opponents from clearing successfully matching Maryland in allowing only 76.6 percent. In the first match-up, Maryland succeeded on all eleven of their clear attempts.
Who to watch for
As noted above, Penn is not a prolific offensive team. Their leading goal scorers are number 6 Tory Benson and Lely DeSimone, number 28. Benson leads the team with 40 goals and DeSimone has found the net 25 times. They each scored twice in the game at Penn. The Quakers' third scoring option would be midfielder Nina Corcoran. While DeSimone was shut out on Friday, the sophomore Corcoran scored once and artfully served up two assists to Benson.
In another stark contrast between the two foes, Maryland's Brooke Griffin has scored more goals than any Penn player has points (goals plus assists). Kelly McPartland, and Taylor Cummings who have each scored 51 goals have nearly as many goals as Benson's 52 points. Digging even deeper, Maryland's fourth leading scorer, Beth Glaros, also has more goals (41) than either of Penn's top scorers and freshman Zoe Stukenberg's 32 scores would be second best for the Quakers.
Wrapping it up
Only two factors could mitigate an easy Terrapins win. One is overconfidence. Having beaten the Quakers easily in Philadelphia, the Terps need to avoid taking them lightly. Penn did come back to beat Princeton after losing to the Tigers in the regular season and they executed their defensive game plan to near perfection in their first round win.
Speaking of first round wins, the other factor that could slow Maryland is cobwebs. Maryland hasn't played in the two weeks since they beat Syracuse to win the ACC title. On one hand, the rest should have provided the Terps the opportunity to heal any nettlesome bumps and bruises. On the other hand, the early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournaments are often a testament to the effects of an overly long layoff.
Still, at the end of the day Maryland fans should fully expect the Terps to be in position to host the winner of the game between Notre Dame and Duke to play for the right to make the trip to Towson and the 2014 Final Four.