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Maryland WLAX beats UNC, 13-11, in battle of nation's top two teams

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After its game on Saturday was suspended and then postponed because of the awful weather, top-ranked Maryland held off second-ranked North Carolina Sunday afternoon.

Todd Carton

Stormy Weather

For those of you that love music history, 'Stormy Weather' was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003. Top-ranked Maryland and second-ranked UNC started their game Saturday in weather that could be described as terrible at best. The Terps led, 4-1, less than 10 minutes into the game when play was suspended. The officials decided to restart the game on Sunday from the beginning instead of resuming play from when it had been stopped.

North Carolina-Maryland is one of women's lacrosse's best rivalries and it is the first time that Maryland has faced North Carolina since the Terrapins left the ACC for the Big Ten. To say that these two teams have played great games for the last four or five years would be a huge understatement, like saying that Lena Horne didn't record the definitive version of Stormy Weather. Simply put, UNC-Maryland has been the best rivalry in NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse in this decade.

First Half

Forty seconds into the game, reigning Tewaaraton award winner Taylor Cummings drew an eight meter but pulled the ball back out. Maryland tried a crossing pass but it missed and resulted in a turnover for the Terps. UNC took the ball down the field. Molly Hendrick took a shot but it was stopped. Maryland's Zoe Stukenberg got the scoring started on a great individual effort at the 26:34 mark. Stukenberg led the team with nine points against William & Mary and showed no rust from the one-day delay.

UNC's Sammy Jo Tracy got an eight meter of her own but passed it off just like Cummings had. Maryland turned away Brittany Coppa's eight meter but surrendered a goal to Coppa at the 24:23 mark. Coppa struck less than a minute later for her 10th goal of the year to put the Tar Heels in front, 2-1. Maryland tried to respond as Kelly McPartland was fouled and received an eight meter on the left hash. She scored the tying goal about 30 seconds after Coppa scored her go-ahead. Early on it was the tough, competitive, back-and-forth game that you would expect from the top two teams in the country.

Maryland's goalie, Alex Fitzpatrick, made her first save of the game as UNC tried to take the lead for the second time and Maryland went back on offense. Brooke Griffin was initially stopped by UNC's Caylee Waters but the ball was given back to Maryland. Taylor Cummings put Maryland back on top, 3-2, as she blew by her defender on the right side and finished at the goal with 20:35 left in the half.

Maryland's star freshman, Megan Whittle, came up with the ensuing draw control, turned on the jets and scored with two defenders in her wake. Whittle managed to score only 14 seconds after Cummings. Maryland likes to get out and run. They play faster than just about anyone in the country and Whittle's goal was the epitome of that style. Maryland got a turnover in the midfield and Whittle again showed some great speed, cutting across the UNC defense and beat Waters for the second time. Maryland led 5-2 with just over 19 minutes to play in the first half -- after scoring three goals in barely a minute and a half of playing time.

Sammy Jo Tracy answered back for the Heels with less than 16 minutes left in the half to trim the UNC deficit to two. Maryland's defense was suffocating for most of the half as they forced another UNC turnover in the midfield. Coppa was sidelined for two minutes on a yellow card but Maryland missed a great opportunity because they turned over the ball and UNC got to run out the clock on the penalty in the Maryland third. Sammy Jo Tracy scored a fantastic goal, her second of the game, going between Alex Fitzpatrick's legs on an eight meter to bring the score to 5-4.

Stukenberg answered back for the Terps off a twelve meter less than a minute later. She was awarded the first-ever Big Ten Player of the Week award for a Maryland women's lacrosse player after her performance against William & Mary and she played a great first half in this one.

Maryland senior Kelly McPartland added a great solo goal with a little over three minutes to play in the half to push the lead to 7-4. McPartland was one of Maryland's top scorers last season but that was her first goal of the season.

Whittle got an eight meter a minute later and Waters stopped her. Waters made a bad pass after Stukenberg turned it over and Tewaaraton finalist and stud defender Megan Douty picked it off in the midfield. UNC took over with 48 seconds left in the half after another Maryland turnover but couldn't get a shot on goal. Maryland went into the break up 7-4 and led 9-3 in draw controls in the half.

Second Half

Aly Messinger scored off a beautiful feed from Maggie Bill and beat Alex Fitzpatrick less than a minute into the half to get UNC started. Sammy Jo Tracy then notched a hat trick shortly after, scoring off of a 12 meter to bring the Tar Heels within one. Cummings answered with an unassisted goal, her second of the game, to push the lead back to two. Aly Messinger caught a break less than a minute after, scoring off of a deflection. The game was being played at a frenetic and exciting pace. McPartland drew an eight meter for the Terps and went top-shelf, pushing the lead back to two. With 26:41 left to go in regulation, Maryland was out-shooting the Tar Heels 20-10 but only led 9-7.

Brooke Griffin scored on a terrific spin move with 25:20 left in the game to get the Terps to double digits. Megan Ward started in goal for UNC in the second half and made a huge mistake as she came behind the cage and UNC was called for a penalty, leaving an open net for Maryland. Off of the restart, Kristen Lamon found Taylor Cummings for the easy goal. It was Cummings' second hat trick in as many games. It was 11-7 in favor of the Terps and it seemed like Maryland was in control of the game, playing their style of game.

UNC turned it over in the Maryland third around the 17 minute mark but later, Alex Moore caught a pass from Marie McCool and launched a rocket into the right corner of the goal for the Tar Heels. Maryland still held a three goal lead with a little over 15 minutes to go in the game but Alex Moore struck with another Tar Heels goal off an eight meter to cut the lead to two with 13:41 left in the game.

Erin Collins scored with a shot into the bottom right corner of the goal off an eight meter to stem the tide and push Maryland's lead back to three. UNC turned it over with about eight minutes left to go and Maryland took over. They pushed fast and Megan Whittle scored another goal to get a hat trick and give the Terps a four goal lead with a little over seven minutes to play. Alex Moore answered shortly afterwards as she picked up a hat-trick for the Tar Heels but UNC still trailed by three with a little over six minutes left.

Stukenberg made a leaping interception to kill a UNC possession and cleared the ball, allowing Maryland to burn another minute off of the clock. After a big stop on defense, UNC's Ela Hazar scored with 2:14 left to bring the Tar Heels within two. McPartland came out with the ensuing draw control. Maryland called time-out with 1:31 and a two goal lead. UNC never got the ball again and the Terps got the 13-11 win.

Recap

Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said after the game, "I don't think this was anything less than an awesome Maryland-Carolina game." Reese loved the way her team battled saying, "The girls fought hard from the opening draw all the way through the last whistle." Maryland's defense was suffocating, forcing 12 turnovers, including seven in the second half. "I thought my defense was awesome today...I thought they did a fabulous job down there." North Carolina shot an outstanding 69 percent, scoring on 11 of their 16 shots.

As well as the defense played, the offense was just as good, putting up 33 shots on a fantastic Tar Heels defense. Reese added, "It's going to be fun to watch this offense develop over the next few weeks." Star freshman Megan Whittle, Taylor Cummings and senior Kelly McPartland all notched hat-tricks against North Carolina.

Cummings built off of her four goal performance in the season opener, scoring three goals and picking up five draw controls and two ground balls. Two big statistics that determined the outcome of this game were the shots, where Maryland out-shot North Carolina 33-16, and the draw controls, where Maryland also dominated North Carolina 18-8.

McPartland said the team started a little slow but everything fell into place. "Draw controls were huge for today...We did really well as a team coming off of the 30's to get those balls and keep it in our possession." This is only the second game of the season and as well as Maryland played today, their ceiling is still much higher. "That wasn't the best that this Maryland team is going to be this year and I can say that confidently."

Bottom Line

Maryland-North Carolina is always must-watch Women's Lacrosse and today was no different. Both teams played hard. UNC never let Maryland pull away too much and Maryland always found an answer to maintain the cushion. This game lived up to the hype of #1 vs. #2 and it lived up to standard of the North Carolina-Maryland rivalry.

North Carolina has never beaten Maryland at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park but the Terps fell to the Tar Heels two years ago in the NCAA final and in Chapel Hill last season. The question will be can Maryland beat their rivals on the big stage with a spot in the finals or an NCAA Title on the line?

The Terps hit the road to take on Hofstra next week before returning home to face UMBC and top-five Syracuse the following week.