"I don't want to ever be outworked. I want us to step on the field and I want to have fun working hard. That's an approach we've taken, to be really tough all over the field," so said Maryland head coach Cathy Reese after Friday night's 9-6 win over the Northwestern Wildcats that propelled the Terrapins to their second consecutive NCAA Championship game. "Tonight was that on display. We were fighting for draws, fighting for loose balls. Our defense came up with a lot of them down on our defensive end. The groundballs really demonstrate hustle and heart, and we really displayed that tonight."
From the outset, Northwestern played at the pace they wanted. They held Maryland to twenty-four shots for the game just twelve in each half. With with Wildcats able to control the pace, the game would pivot on draws, groundballs, poise, and defensive execution.
Draws - Advantage Maryland
When Northwestern sends senior Alyssa Leonard into the draw circle, they send one of the best not only for this season, but in women's lacrosse history. Coming into the game, Leonard had the most career draw controls of any player in NCAA history. On the season she had 160 to average eight per game. Maryland's Taylor Cummings is also something of a draw control expert. She started play Friday night with 116 for the Terrapins. At the end of the night, Cummings had a 4-3 edge on Leonard and the Terps had a 10-7 advantage over the Wildcats.
After the game, Maryland's sophomore had this to say, "Alyssa is great at the draw. She holds a lot of records there. She's really good at getting it up to herself. My mentality going into it was to use our circle people, Beth and Erin, who come in fast and come in hard, then if that wasn't there, our people on the 30 would be able to crash in. I just tried not to get it up to myself because she's so dominant with her one hand. I tried to make it a 50-50 groundball and I think my team did a really good job of coming in hard and winning those 50-50 groundballs." Beth and Erin would be Beth Glaros who picked up three draws and Erin Collins who added one.
Groundballs - Advantage Maryland
As Reese said, the groundballs demonstrate hustle and heart. At times during the season she had said that she thought the Terps should get to every groundball. Entering the game, the Wildcats had performed slightly better than the Terps holding a 321-287 edge over their foes while Maryland held a similar 327-296 margin. Friday night, The Terrapins got to fourteen groundballs and the Wildcats only five.
Poise - Advantage Maryland
Northwestern tried to get physical with Maryland. The Wildcats were whistled for 30 fouls, exactly twice as many and the Terrapins. Northwestern received the only yellow card of the first half. As their frustration grew, they picked up three more in the game's final three and a half minutes. Said Reese afterward, "We want to make sure our team doesn't react. Sometimes that's the strategy of other people, to play a very physical style and I want to demonstrate class all over the field. I want our kids to play with pride and to play because they love the game and they love each other. I don't want anything to rattle us. We need to be calm and confident in everything we do. We talk about it on a regular basis, not just in preparation for tonight or for any of our other games. It's something that's important to our style of lacrosse at Maryland."
In addition to the fouls, Northwestern opted to face guard Taylor Cummings all over the field. Even standing at the thirty meter line, Cummings had a Wildcats' defender closely guarding her. Said Northwestern coach and Maryland grad Kelly Amonte-Hiller, "In terms of defensive game plan, we felt like if we could kind of contain Taylor, that we could focus on their other key assets." How did Cummings handle the challenge? with poise and aplomb. "I have never really been faceguarded like that," she said. They were trying to stick with me the whole time. Our team was able to move around it. It actually opened things up for us and made it easier to dodge. I just stood at the top and watched my team do the work."
How did Maryland's other key assets fare? Though Northwestern held Cummings to a single goal, those other key assets indeed stepped up. Kelly McPartland picked up a hat trick. Brooke Griffin registered four points on two goals and two assists. Zoe Stukenberg also scored twice and Beth Glaros added two assists to her score.
One other area the Terps had maintain their pose and overcome a challenge came in the form of two disallowed goals that both came from Kelly McPartland's crosse. As Reese said, "We did get off to a slow start. We did have a couple goals called back, which could go either way then. Knowing that Northwestern did hold the ball for periods of time, the hard part with that is then we get it down on offense and if we don't score, we're back playing defense again. That's something we're very aware of."
Defensive Execution - Advantage Maryland
This one is close. Northwestern executed their game plan well. Though partly due to the Terps being content to run the clock and not look to score over the last three and a half minutes when they often had a two player advantage, Maryland nevertheless failed to reach ten goals for only the second time this season.
However, not only did the Terps hold the Wildcats scoreless for nearly twenty-five minutes, Northwestern had two separate stretches of over ten minutes on the game clock where they failed to get a shot let alone score. Said ACC Defensive Player of the Year Megan Douty, "We sent the double early and communicated really well. Our defense did a great job. We slid when we needed to and we caused some great turnovers to start the offense."
The job isn't done
Last season, the Terps came up one goal short of capturing the national championship dropping an epic triple overtime decision to North Carolina. Maryland entered that game undefeated and had victimized the Tar Heels twice en route hand UNC two of their three losses on the season.
This season, the Terps enter the title game 22-1 with the only blemish on their season a 17-15 loss at North Carolina. Their opponent, the Syracuse Orange, enter the game 21-2. Both Syracuse losses have been to Maryland. I am not a believer in the difficulty of beating a good team three times in one season. The difficulty comes in winning three times consecutively. The Terps have shown themselves better than the Orange twice. Can they do so for a third consecutive time? That answer will come Sunday night.