Maryland's quest to defend their national title started in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They took on the A-10 champs who were 19-1 coming into the game. UMass had defeated Jacksonville, 13-8, on Friday for the right to take on the top-seeded Terps. Maryland held a perfect 9-0 record against UMass in the all-time series coming into the game.
Erin Collins picked up the opening draw of the game and Megan Whittle earned an eight meter attempt. Whittle converted just 58 seconds into the game for her 60th goal of the season. Hannah Murphy picked up the next draw for UMass and Kasey Keane tied it up at one apiece almost a minute later. It took Maryland only 22 seconds to respond. Kelly McPartland raced down the field on the next possession, drew an eight meter, and finished. UMass captured the ensuing draw and Erika Eipp tied it up at two. Less than three minutes into the game, it was 2-2 with neither team able to stop the other. Eipp struck again at the 26:19 mark to give UMass a 3-2 lead.
McPartland drew an eight meter for Maryland as Kate Farnham was given a yellow card. This time it only took 21 seconds for McPartland to score following a UMass goal. Pepperman gave Maryland possession but Rachel Vallarelli made a very nice save on a shot from McPartland. Maryland forced a turnover in the midfield and Brooke Griffin earned an eight meter and converted to give Maryland the lead back with 23:21 left to play in the half.
Vallarelli made another save but Nadine Hadnagy picked it off to give Maryland the ball back. Vallarelli made a save but once again, UMass turned it over. Alice Mercer led the Maryland fast break and the Terps caught a lucky break as Griffin's shot hit off of Vallarelli's stick and went right to Whittle, who scored to give Maryland a two goal lead.
Whittle earned an eight meter but shot wide. Maryland retained possession and Mattie Meredith went way, way up to grab a pass from Taylor Cummings and finished in the air for the very athletic goal. Erin Collins drew an eight meter and extended the Maryland run to 5-0 with a bounce shot that fooled Vallarelli. In the span of about 15 minutes, Maryland went from being down 3-2 to being up 7-3.
A moment of comic relief occurred near the eight minute mark when Alice Mercer led a Maryland fast break and decided to take a shot. She missed badly to the left. It is rare to see a defender take a shot but it was refreshing to see Mercer take a rip at the goal.
Taylor Cummings finally got a goal with 7:32 left in the half to make it 8-3. UMass had done a really nice job on the reigning Tewaaraton winner up to that point. Callie Santos ended the run for UMass with just under six minutes to play in the half off of an assist from Eipp. Santos' goal trimmed the deficit to four for the Minutewomen. Taylor Hensh got it back for Maryland on a free position less than a minute later to push it back to five. Nicole Troost answered with a free position goal of her own for UMass with 2:07 left in the half to make it 9-5. McPartland got a hat trick 37 seconds later and Whittle went isolation and scored a hat trick with 12 seconds left in the half to make it 11-5.
McPartland and Whittle out-scored UMass in the half 6-5 and the Terps did most of their damage on free position shots, converting six out of their eight shots. Maryland dominated the draw 13-4 but the game was very competitive for the first 15 minutes of the half. The discrepancy in fouls was enormous with UMass being whistled 23 times to Maryland's five.
In the first minute of the half, Vallarelli saved a shot from Whittle, continuing her great play from the first half. Alex Fitzpatrick made a save on a free position attempt by Hannah Murphy to give Maryland the ball back. Vallarelli went to the ground again to deny McPartland for her 10th save of the game. She was keying in on the bounce shots that Maryland had used against her in the first half.
Fitzpatrick easily intercepted a pass on the other end but had it taken away on offense when McPartland got hacked but no foul was called. UMass got the scoring in the second half started with 22:28 left in the game as Eipp picked up a hat trick.
Cummings answered for Maryland less than two minutes later after Vallarelli had made yet another save. Zoe Stukenberg scored with 20:25 left to make it 13-6. She picked up another goal less than a minute later on a feed from Whittle. Stukenberg fed Cummings in traffic and she finished right in front of Vallarelli with 18:20 left in the game for the hat trick. Whittle took her defender one on one to the right and finished for her fourth goal of the game to push the lead to ten.
In the span of three minutes the Terps scored four goals to make it 16-6 and even though there was 17 minutes left in the game, it felt out of reach. Ott threw a long pass for UMass and Eipp scored her fourth goal of the game to stop the running clock. McPartland scored her fourth goal of the game off of an eight meter and the lead was back to ten. Stukenberg picked up a hat trick with under 11 minutes to play. Eileen McDonald got it back to ten with under six to play but Maryland corralled the next draw and Mattie Meredith scored her second goal of the game to push it back to 11. The clock ran out and Maryland was in to the quarterfinals.
Statistically, Maryland dominated this game in just about every conceivable facet. They dominated UMass in shots (37-11), draw controls (22-7), ground balls (14-8), and turnovers (six to UMass' ten).
Maryland peppered Vallarelli, one of the nation's top goalies, who led the nation in save percentage, with 22 shots in the first half and 15 in the second half. The result was that eight Maryland players scored goals and half of those had hat tricks. It helped that McPartland scored goals 22, 21 and 37 seconds after UMass goals to blunt their momentum. Whittle had five points while Cummings and Stukenberg each had four. UMass came in with the nation's number two scoring defense and Maryland had scored double that average by halftime.
This was a close and competitive game for the first 15 minutes and then Maryland put a clamp down on the draw controls. "I think it came down to ball possession...and that middle stretch of the game there where we probably didn't have the ball for at least 10-15 minutes allowed them to go on a run," said UMass head coach Angela McMahon following the game.
Maryland scored a season-high 19 goals and clearly had put their game against Ohio State behind them. They will take on Northwestern next Sunday at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park.
"This is an exciting time of year. This is what we work all season for." That is how Maryland head coach Cathy Reese opened her post-game remarks. She is right. Nothing is more dramatic than post-season action and that drama is heightened when it is win-or-go-home.
Maryland suffered their first loss of the season last week in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and didn't show any signs of lingering issues. Reese said her team was locked in. "We put the past behind us. It's done. Our focus right now is today and putting together a good 60 minutes of lacrosse."
McPartland said that despite the team's tremendous performance, they still haven't reached their apex as a team. "I still don't think we're playing our best lacrosse. I think we have a lot more to work on and there is a lot more to come from us."
The Terps are now three wins away from hoisting the NCAA Championship trophy for the second straight year. That is the bottom line.