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Maryland women's lacrosse - previewing the B1G opener at Northwestern

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Some quality opponents remain on Maryland's women's lacrosse schedule but the Terps probably face their stiffest challenge when they open Big Ten play Thursday night at the fourth ranked Northwestern Wildcats.

Reigning B1G Defensive Player of the Week Alice Mercer is ready for Northwestern
Reigning B1G Defensive Player of the Week Alice Mercer is ready for Northwestern
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

After years of playing in the ACC, after playing five ranked opponents in their first nine games, the Maryland women's lacrosse team will open play with their first Big Ten conference game when they travel to Evanston, IL Thursday night to take on the Northwestern Wildcats at the appropriately named Lakeside Field. The game will be Northwestern's fifth against a ranked opponent in their first eight games and is, if we're being honest about it, likely to be the game that determines the Big Ten Champion. First, the basics:

How to watch:

WHO: Maryland Terrapins (9-0, 0-0) @ Northwestern Wildctas (5-2, 0-0)

WHAT: Women's Big Ten Conference Game

WHERE: Lakeside Field, Evanston, IL

WHEN: Thursday, March 26, 2015, 7:00 pm ET

WATCH: In Person

TV: BTN

STREAM: BTN2Go

A little history lesson

Point 1 - The first ever Big Ten women's lacrosse game: Yes, this is Maryland's first Big Ten conference game. It's also Northwestern's first ever Big Ten conference game. You see, while Northwestern has had a women's lacrosse program off and on since 1982, this is the first year that the B1G has sponsored a women's lacrosse league. Most recently, the Wildcats played in the American Lacrosse Conference.

Point 2 - Dynastic National Champions: Most Terrapins fans know that the Maryland women's lacrosse team won the NCAA Championship in 2014. They might also know that the Terps have a total of 11 National Championships and certainly women's lacrosse fans are also aware of Northwestern's run of five straight titles from 2005 - 2009. However, go back 20 years to 1995 and you will not find either Maryland or Northwestern listed as the National Champion in only 2002,2003,2004, and 2013. Yes, Maryland and Northwestern claim 16 of the last 20 national titles.

Point 3 - A shared pedigree: Once again, some readers may know that Northwestern's coach since 2002, Kelly Amonte-Hiller played for Maryland. They may know that Amonte-Hiller is fifth all-time for the Terps in goals scored, second in assists, and second in total points. They may know that she played on two national championship teams at Maryland in1995 and 1996 that initiated a run of seven consecutive titles for the Terps. What they may not know is that from 1981 through 1990, Northwestern's coach was Cindy Timchal who took over the reins at Maryland in 1990 and was Amonte-Hiller's coach as Timchal led the Terrpains to eight of their 11 titles. They also might not know that Northwestern abandoned intercollegiate participation from 1993 - 2001. Oh, and Reese and Amonte-Hiller were teammates in 1996.

Point 4 - Head to head: 14: This is the number of times Maryland and Northwestern have met in women's lacrosse. 8-6: This is Maryland's all-time record against Northwestern. That divides into a  5-4 Maryland advantage in regular season games and stands 3-2 in favor of the Terps in NCAA Tournament games. In their most recent  meeting, Maryland came away with a 9-6 win in the 2014 national semifnal. Nine goals represented the Terps second lowest total of the season. The squads have not played one another in the regular season since Reese's first year at the helm in 2007. The Wildcats won that game 12-7 on their home field.

What's happening with the Wildcats in 2015

One needs to look beyond Northwestern's 5-2 record thus far this season before concluding that the Wildcats aren't a legitimate threat to end the Terrapins' 19 game winning streak that dates back to last season's 8-7 win at Princeton on April 9th. They've played just two of their first seven games at home and are undefeated at Lakeside field.

They have played three true road games losing once - a 12-11 loss at North Carolina. They are 1-1 in neutral site games bettering then seventh ranked Virginia 6-5 and losing a 15-9 decision to Duke. The Wildcats have won two straight since their loss at Carolina and Sunday picked up an 11-10 win over Syracuse.

Perhaps a touch ironically, after Maryland, Northwestern will host Louisville and Notre Dame also remains on the Wildcats' schedule. The irony, for those who haven't noticed it, is that Northwestern will play six of the eight women's lacrosse teams that now comprise the ACC.

Who are the threats?

Although Maryland has not scored as prolifically this season as they did last, the Terps still score over 13 goals per game tying them for 16th in the NCAA. Northwestern, on the other hand, is far from an offensive powerhouse. The Wildcats average 10.86 goals per game which lands them outside the top 50 nationally. Maryland is also better defensively. The Terps 6.78 goals against average is eighth best in the country while the Wildcats are 42nd yielding 9.57 per game.

Northwestern features one primary and two secondary goal scorers. Their leading scorer is 5'6" freshman midfielder Selena Lasota (#2). Lasota scores more frequently and more accurately than Maryland's own precocious freshman, Megan Whittle. Like Whittle, Lasota has scored 28 goals but has done so in two fewer games and with substantially less help.

The two secondary scorers for the Wildcats, junior midfielder Kaleigh Craig (#12) and redshirt senior attacker Kara Mupo (#8), have each scored 11 times. Add that up. Lasota has scored more goals than the next two Wildcats combined. The Terps will also need to be aware of freshman Shelby Fredericks (#33) and sophomore Sheila Nesselbush (#7). Although they have each scored eight goals, together they have accounted for over half of Northwestern's 77 draw controls. Nesselbush has 23 and Fredericks has 17.

For comparison, Maryland's Taylor Cummings alone had 40 draw controls through the Terps' first seven games. The junior now has 62 after recording 11 draw controls in back to back games against Penn and James Madison. And if you're wondering how the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner's junior campaign is progressing otherwise, here's the answer: Extremely well.Cummings is tied for the team lead in goal with Whittle's 28 but she leads Maryland in assists with 14 and 42 points. She is also Maryland's leader in ground balls (15) and caused turnovers (17).

Maryland will conclude their mini road swing with a game at Georgetown on April first. They will ten return to College Park to host Rutgers and Princeton.