A Jay-Z/Kanye West AND Game of Thrones reference?! They don't need to reintroduce themselves, but the champs are back and they take the field for their season opener February 15 against William and Mary.
Joining the Big Ten
The conference has six schools that sponsor women's lacrosse. Of those six schools, five of the head coaches are Maryland alums. Five out of six!
The B1G Shocker
Maryland Women's Lacrosse Head Coach Cathy Reese said, "I think the Big Ten is going to be a very, very competitive conference." Reese said Maryland, Northwestern and Penn State have combined for 20 National Championships adding, "That says a lot about the conference." The ACC now has a total of 4 NCAA Championships in women's lacrosse. Virginia won in 1991, 1993 and 2004. UNC won in 2013.
In fact, since 1995, (a 20-year span for those of you who may not be mathematically inclined) there have been only four years where the NCAA Champion was a team other than Maryland or Northwestern. So who needs the ACC?
Reese (who won four straight titles at Maryland as a player) said that she tries to remind her team that, "This is a different year. We need to live in the moment. We need to enjoy what we're doing. Nothing that happened last year matters... All that matters is our group and how we perform together."
Maryland is 1-1 in the last two NCAA Finals (in 2013 they lost a heart-breaker in triple overtime to UNC in what was their only loss of the season). They want to be more New England Patriots circa 2001-2004 (three titles in four years) rather than the Buffalo Bills circa 1991-1994 (four straight Super Bowl losses). This team is primed to repeat and an undefeated season with a second consecutive National Championship looks likely.
You would have to go back to 2008 to find the last season that the Terps didn't make the Final Four. Their run from 2010 on is impressive. They won it all in 2009-2010, lost in a rematch against Northwestern in the final in 2010-2011, lost to Northwestern in the 2011-2012 semis, lost in the final to UNC in the triple overtime classic in 2012-2013 and then beat Syracuse 15-12 for the title last season. So to recap:
2009-2010: NCAA Champions
2010-2011: NCAA Runner-up
2012-2013: NCAA Runner-up
2013-2014: NCAA Champions
Another title means that the Terps would have three titles in six years with two runner-up appearances. Five finals appearances in six years sounds like a dynasty to me. Northwestern ripped off five NCAA Championships in a row before Maryland beat them in 2010 - threatening but not matching the Terps' run of seven straight titles from 1995 through 2001. The Wildcats then won the next two in a row to capture seven titles in eight years. Reese is one of the best recruiters in any NCAA sport and has built a team that can win now and far into the future. If Maryland wants to reclaim their dynasty, it starts this season.
Reese blew the assembled media away by saying, "For Maryland you can expect nothing different than what you have seen during my time here. We're looking forward to playing great defense. Our defense is going to start our offense. We are going to push the ball and hopefully score a lot of goals. That's what you're going to see from us."
She added, "We have seven players on the field at any given time that can score." Maryland had the fourth-best scoring offense in women's lacrosse last season despite not having a single player in the top 10 in goals per game.
When you have been as successful as Reese, why change anything? Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year after losing Alex Aust and Katie Schwarzmann. What did Maryland do? They won the National Championship. Reese's Maryland teams don't rebuild, they reload.
Maryland returns a prodigious amount of talent on both ends of the ball, but their offense is the envy of the nation. Under Reese, the Terps like to run and score and they do plenty of both. The 2014 Tewaaraton Award winner, Taylor Cummings, returns to pace the Terps. She is the only sophomore to ever win the award and was not on Maryland's "Three Players to Watch" list in the Big Ten preseason. It just shows how much talent the Terps have. Cummings had 63 goals, which led the team, and 24 assists. Cummings also dominated on draw controls and there is no reason to think that she won't do so again this year.
Kelly McPartland scored a career high 61 goals last season and added 33 assists. Reese likes to get the ball to her in space and let her go to work one-on-one. She was third in goals by only two, but led the team in points with 94. Brooke Griffin was incredibly efficient, scoring 62 goals while shooting an unreal 64.6 percent. She tied for second on the team in assists with Cummings with 24.
The Terps had nine players score 10 or more goals last season. Of those nine, they only lose number four, Beth Glaros, number nine, Jen Mendez, and Halle Majorana who transferred. The returning ACC Rookie of the Year, Zoe Stukenberg, should improve upon a very good 2014 and Megan Whittle, the number one recruit in the nation, will almost certainly put up big numbers in her first season in College Park.
This team scored 350 goals last season at an average of 14.58 goals per game! No one scored more goals last season than Maryland. They shot 49.4 percent and put almost 80 percent of their shots on goal.
Megan Douty was a Tewaarton Award Finalist and leads the defense. She and Alice Mercer form what I believe is the best 1-2 defender combo in the country. Douty is the equivalent of a shut-down cover corner in football. She covers the team's best offensive option and will sometimes switch off with the very athletic Mercer who has great speed and length to cover attackers.
We will continue to see more of Nadine Hadnagy. Hadnagy started right away as a freshman. She had some growing pains but she has a full year of experience under her belt now. Casey Pepperman transferred from Louisville a couple of years ago and found a home and was a great defender for the national champs last season. She will be prominent again this year. Shanna Brady started all 24 games for the Terps last season and will be back as well.
I expect Emily Kift to see time in goal for the Terps. She had some very good moments last season and a goal against average of 6.33. That's a great sign for a young goalie and she is only a sophomore so she could be the goalkeeper of the future for the Terps. Although Kift likely has the inside track, she is competing with Alex Fitzpatrick, a graduate student transfer who played last season at Louisville and freshman Emma Moss. Said Reese,
"We're about two weeks into our preseason and it's too early to make a decision on any of them. They've all been playing well. They're battling it out and obviously one of them or maybe two of them - we'll see how our season goes - will be anchoring our defense."
Whoever is in goal will inherit all of the defensive starters from a unit that was the ninth-best scoring defense in women's lacrosse last season. According to Reese, the offense has benefited from the competition in goal, "It's been great for our offense because they've been faced with really challenging keepers that all play a different style."
Maryland's defense last year was suffocating, allowing just under eight goals per game and holding opponents to a 39 percent shooting percentage. Maryland will need more of the same if they want to repeat as National Champions. Luckily they have the pieces in place to do it. Brady, Douty and Mercer started all 24 games last year. Hadnagy started in 23 of 24 and Pepperman started in 18 of 24. This is a very, very experienced group on defense for the Terps, but if the goalies get the stops than Maryland will have one of the best defenses in the nation just like they did a year ago.
This is where Maryland continues to stand out. They have 10 of their 12 starters coming back, losing only Glaros and goalie Abby Clipp. The Terps lose Jen Mendez off the bench, but still have terrific weapons in Kristen Lamon and, of course, Reese also has Whittle to add some zing to her spicy offense.
Maryland always played a tough schedule because the ACC was the best top-to-bottom conference in the country for women's lacrosse. This year they will play a bevy of games against ranked opponents. Here is a look at all of the teams that they will play against who were ranked in Lacrosse Magazine's Preseason Top 20 poll. This is also the order that they will play them in.
UNC (Maryland's home opener) - #2
Syracuse - #3
Florida - #4
Penn - #17
at Northwestern - #5
at Georgetown - #18
Princeton - #15
at Ohio State - #13
at Johns Hopkins - #14
Penn State (Season Finale) - #11
Only seven games on the schedule come against unranked opponents meaning that the Terps will play more games against top-20 teams than they will against teams outside the top 20. The home schedule gives Maryland an added edge because they are incredibly tough to beat at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. UNC starts their season two weeks before Maryland (they started on Super Bowl Sunday) so they will have a little more game time under their belts.
The Big Ten scheduling procedures are different from the Terps' previous conference. It assigns the conference schedule to its teams and they are in the five weeks leading up to the conference tournament.
Maryland plays the second and third ranked teams in the country in their first five games and if you look at their first ten games, they add Nos. 4, 17 and 5. If you can get past the staggering amount of ranked teams that they will play, the schedule looks pretty manageable for this team. They have a jaw-dropping amount of talent. They play their toughest games at home and the majority of their road games against ranked teams are against teams outside the top 10 that shouldn't prove too much of a challenge.
The Terps are the favorites to win the B1G and many expect them to repeat as national champs. In truth, they have the talent to not only win a national title, but to navigate a daunting regular season schedule and come out undefeated. Reese is one of the best coaches there is in women's lacrosse or in any NCAA sport for that matter, but this will not be an easy season. Maryland will be tested early and often by the best teams in the nation. We will learn a lot about Maryland early on but we are going to see a different team in May than the one that we see in middle and late February. The bottom line is that the Terps should repeat as national champions. They return almost all of their starters and a dynasty might be on the horizon if Maryland can hoist the trophy again. So watch the throne. Because Maryland may not be relinquishing it for a very long time.