Maryland was the top-ranked team in the nation, sporting an undefeated record and winning their four conference games by an average of 7.5 goals. Eighth-ranked Penn State was coming off of their first win over Northwestern in 12 years to set up a winner-take-all match-up with Maryland for the Big Ten's first-ever Women's Lacrosse title. Maryland came in with a top-ten scoring offense and a top-ten scoring defense. They are one of, if not, the most well-rounded teams in the nation.
Players to Watch
Maggie McCormick is the lone Nittany Lion to be named a Tewaaraton Nominee while Maryland sports four nominees in reigning Tewaaraton winner Taylor Cummings, a former Tewaaraton finalist in Megan Douty, Megan Whittle, and Brooke Griffin.
McCormick holds the Penn State career record for assists and is top-five all-time in points scored. She is top-15 on their all-time scoring list and you would have to go back all the way to 1986-1989 to find a Penn State player who scored more points over the course of her career than McCormick. Steph Lazo leads the Nittany Lions with 31 goals.
Whittle is top-ten in the nation and leads Maryland in scoring with 55 goals and Taylor Cummings (who is second on the team in goals) leads the Terps in assists, draw controls, caused turnovers and ground balls.
The stakes were high for both sides but Maryland had more to lose.
Penn State came in with a 12-3 record and all three losses were by one goal. Maryland was undefeated and was the top-ranked team in the nation. The Terps were featured on the cover of Inside Lacrosse magazine with the title, "Best Team Ever?" Maryland was trying to record their second perfect regular season in three years. A loss against Penn State would not only end Maryland's perfect season and knock them from the top spot in the rankings, but they would lose the Big Ten title and would have to settle for the second seed in next week's Big Ten Tournament.
Taylor Cummings scooped up the opening draw control, raced down the field and scored just 10 seconds into the game. She picked up the next draw control and scored just 36 seconds after she had scored her first one. Maryland turned it over on offense as they tried to make it 3-0 and Penn State took over. However, the Nittany Lions gave it right back.
Kristen Lamon earned an eight meter and scored with 25:35 left to play in the first half to push the lead to three. Cummings corralled yet another draw but Penn State forced a turnover. Maryland goalie Alex Fitzpatrick made a save on the other end. Zoe Stukenberg then took a Kelly McPartland pass in the middle of the Penn State defense and scored from the left side to make it 4-0.
Stukenberg added her second goal of the game, and 31st of the year, with 20:05 left in the first half. It was all Maryland in the first 10 minutes. Griffin found Lamon on a beautiful back cut on the next possession and Lamon one-timed it past Emi Smith while falling down to put Maryland up 6-0. Penn State got on the board with 18:58 left in the first half on a Madison Cyr goal that came off of a pass from McCormick.
Stukenberg threw up a pass and Kristen Lamon came down with it near the left side of the goal and scored to get a hat trick for the game. Jenna Mosketti brought it back to five for the Nittany Lions as McCormick once again found the open player. Kelly McPartland missed on an eight meter but Maryland retained possession. Stukenberg turned it over and Ally Heavens converted on the other end for Penn State to make it 7-3. McCormick had assisted on all three of Penn State's goals.
Out of the TV timeout, Taylor Cummings earned an eight meter but stumbled and the ball was knocked out of her stick. Penn State couldn't convert in the Maryland third. Cummings got another try at an eight meter but missed wide to the right. Stukenberg couldn't bring in a relatively easy pass and turned it over but Fitzpatrick made a save going to her right.
Smith made a pair of stops for Penn State to give the Nittany Lions back the ball. Taylor Cummings picked off a Penn State pass, turned it over, and then caused another turnover and picked up the ground ball. Whittle, Maryland's precocious freshman, got her first goal of the game and 56th of the year with 5:00 left in the half. She took a couple of steps off of an eight meter and fired it top shelf past Smith. Cummings got the next draw control but turned it over almost immediately on a bad pass.
The Maryland defense held and Alice Mercer out-ran three Penn State players to give Maryland a chance to get the last shot of the half. Cummings was backing down her defender near the crease and the Penn Stater fell down. The referee whistled for a dubious Duke-like charge call. Fitzpatrick made a save on a last-second shot attempt to keep the score at 8-3 going into the half.
The Terps out-shot Penn State 18-9 in the half and utterly dominated them on the draw, 11-1. Maryland turned it over seven times in the half yet they led by five goals.
Katie O'Donnell picked up the first draw control of the half but Maryland got it back. Stukenberg got hacked as she attacked the goal and earned an eight meter but Smith saved it. The Terps gave it back but Taylor Cummings caused a turnover to get Maryland possession. Smith and the Nittany Lion defense made another stop but Hadnagy poked the ball away in the Maryland third and the Terps went back on offense. The game was played at a frenetic pace early on in the half and both teams were sloppy with the ball.
Griffin earned an eight meter but her shot went off the cross-bar. O'Donnell got the scoring started in the half as she got around her defender and fired a shot past Fitzpatrick with 23:39 left in the game. Mosketti scored 19 seconds later to trim the Maryland lead to three. Tatum Coffey gave the Nittany Lions a boost as she made it three goals within the span of one minute to make it an 8-6 game. Casey Pepperman knocked the ball out of the stick of a Penn State player after she controlled the ensuing draw to give Maryland a chance to end the run. Cummings got called for another charge and Penn State got the chance to bring it to within one. Lazo spun around the right side of the goal and launched a side-arm style shot past Fitzpatrick to make it 8-7 with 20:01 left in the game.
If the first 10 minutes of the first half was all Maryland, the first 10 minutes of the second half was all Penn State. They scored three goals in just over a minute and added a fourth a couple of minutes later. Smith was injured on a play where Maryland shot the ball and missed but retained possession. Smith was clearly limping and was in pain. She stayed in for a minute but Cummings got a hat trick on a pass from Lamon and it was clear that Smith couldn't continue. She was helped off the field and the goal to give Maryland a two goal cushion was hugely important.
McKenna Coyle, a 5'11'' freshman, came in to replace Smith. Cummings scored her fourth goal of the game off of an eight meter to make it 10-7 and then won the next draw. Kelly McPartland scored off of an eight meter and the score was suddenly 11-7 in favor of the Terps. Maryland won the next draw and Coyle came up with a save. Penn State got out on the break and Lazo scored with 14:17 left to make it 11-8.
At this point in the second half, Penn State was 5-5 shooting the ball. Pepperman got the draw for Maryland and Stukenberg finished it off with her third goal of the game with 12:38 left to make it 12-8. That gave Maryland three players with hat tricks. Mosketti made it 6-6 for Penn State as the Nittany Lions answered just 35 seconds later, giving Mosketti a hat trick. McCormick had her fifth assist. Penn State controlled the next draw and Lazo scored an unassisted goal to get a hat trick of her own and make it 12-10 with 10:10 remaining. Penn State had yet to miss a shot in the second half and was 7-7.
Penn State had a free position but Kristin Brent missed and Maryland got to the ball before the Nittany Lions. They took over and took the ball down the field. Taylor Hensh, one of Maryland's other heralded freshman, scored off a feed from McPartland to give the Terps a 13-10 lead with 6:54 left to play.
Penn State got the next draw but the Maryland defense used the sideline as an extra defender and forced a Nittany Lions player to step out of bounds with a ball, giving the ball back to Maryland. Coyle got a save with around four and a half minutes left. Penn State earned an eight meter with 2:01 left but they missed. They kept possession but the clock was working in Maryland's favor and the Nittany Lions were running out of time.
Penn State made a bad pass and turned it over with just under a minute. Maryland gave it right back shortly afterwards but the defense forced a turnover and the Terps ran out the clock to win 13-10 and win the inaugural Big Ten Women's Lacrosse Championship.
This was a hard-fought game and Maryland fought off a scrappy and talented Penn State team. Like the Princeton game, this was a tale of two halves and it was Maryland who played the better first half but got out-played in the second half. They made just enough plays when they had to in order to win. They didn't lose their cool and made their push and the defense held Penn State scoreless over the final 10:10 to preserve the lead.
In the first half, Maryland won the draw control battle 11-1. They lost it 8-5 in the second half. Despite out-scoring Maryland 7-5 in the second half while getting out-shot 16-11, Penn State turned the ball over an astounding 10 times in the second half after only committing four turnovers in the first half. Maryland committed seven turnovers in the first half and turned it over five times in the second half.
Penn State was 0-4 (they were 0-3 in the second half after shooting lights out and not missing a shot in the first 20 minutes) on their free position shots in the game, including a big miss by Kristin Brent. Maryland took the ball down the field and the possession ended with Hensh scoring to give Maryland a three goal lead that would hold up as the final margin of victory. If Brent had converted, it would have been a one goal game with over seven minutes left.
Taylor Cummings made a slew of mistakes today, including three turnovers. However, she also showed why she is the best player in the college game today by leaving her hand-prints all over this game. She dominated in the face-off circle with 10 draw controls. To give you perspective on how good that is, she had more draw controls than Penn State did AS A TEAM. She also added a game-high four goals (albeit on an inefficient 11 shots) and picked up four ground balls.
This was a good, hard-earned win against a very good team. The Maryland Women's Lacrosse team is now the fifth Maryland team to win at least a share of a Big Ten title this season. This is the first title that the Big Ten has ever awarded for Women's Lacrosse because up until this season, the Big Ten did not have Women's Lacrosse as a conference sport.
When Princeton pushed Maryland for 35 minutes, (before the Terps simply went unconscious and went off for 14 goals in the second half) I wrote that Maryland needed that type of game where they were tested and where they had to face adversity. They needed to know what it felt like to be down in a game against a good team that was hungry. They didn't panic and they came out in the second half, scored two goals, and took over. They ended up routing Princeton after being down two at the half.
Tonight, Maryland was in the role of the prey, not the predator. Maryland was up 6-0 at one point on the Nittany Lions and went into the half up 8-3. They were dominating Penn State in just about every statistic that mattered. They had coughed the ball up seven times and were still up five. Penn State head coach Missy Doherty said that they were lucky to only be down five the way Maryland was playing in the first half.
O'Donnell scored with 23:39 left and Penn State put up three more in 3:38. The score was 8-7 and Maryland was in very real danger of seeing their perfect season ruined. Taylor Cummings scored to end the run and Emi Smith, who had played so well for the Nittany Lions, left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury (I believe it was to her right knee but Doherty said she wasn't sure). Cummings added another and McPartland scored to push the lead to four. Steph Lazo trimmed the lead to two with 10:10 left but the defense shut out Penn State for the rest of the game. Hensh scored to make it a three goal lead and that would hold up against the Nittany Lions
That was the kind of heart and will and determination and keeping calm under pressure that most teams lack but all great teams have. Just as this team needed to be down and experience coming from behind to win, this team also needed to be out in front with a small lead and protect it against a hungry, scrappy and talented team that wants to beat them.
That is what happens when you return all of your starters with the exception of Beth Glaros and Abbey Clipp from a team that won the national title last year. This is a battle-tested team and they will be ready for the NCAA Tournament. They will almost certainly get a couple of good games up at Rutgers next week for the conference tournament.
This is what it is all about. The post-season. Maryland is two games away from the NCAA Tournament. They learned another valuable lesson tonight about the importance of playing hard and playing consistently for 60 minutes. When they play hard and they play their style of lacrosse for 60 minutes, there is no team in the country that can hang with them, much less beat them. But if they don't play well for even 10 minutes, a five goal lead evaporates and they are put in a situation where they have very little margin for error.
Maryland's eye is on the prize. That's exactly where it should be. While Maryland wanted to get this historic win and enjoy the shirts and hats and trophy that come with it, there is only one set of hats that matter to them. There is only one set of shirts that matter to them. There is only one trophy that matters to them. These three items all have the same two words emblazoned across them. Those two words are "National Champions". This team is on a mission to win a second consecutive national title and nothing else matters. That is the bottom line.