Maryland women's lacrosse beat North Carolina, 8-7, on Saturday in the latest installment of the sport's greatest rivalry.
There was a lot of hype going into the game. Maryland entered the season ranked No. 1. UNC came in at No. 2. Maryland beat UNC, 9-8, last season in one of the most thrilling NCAA Championship games ever. To top it off, these two programs have combined to win the last three national titles. Could the game live up to the hype? The answer to that question is now an unequivocal yes.
The Terps jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first half and held the Tar Heels scoreless for almost 24 minutes. Megan Taylor was sensational in goal, making six saves in the first half, as Maryland took a 4-1 lead into the break. The second half, however, was a different story.
North Carolina's Sammy Jo Tracy sparked a 4-1 run over the first nine minutes of the second half to tie the game at five apiece. The two teams traded goals over the next 15 minutes, with UNC's Olivia Ferrucci tying the game at eight with just 5:41 left to play. Then Megan Whittle took over.
As the super sophomore attacked the goal, two Tar Heel defenders immediately jumped in the way. As Whittle retreated with her back to the goal, the defenders gave chase.
Whittle spun back to her right shoulder and split both defenders. She came out on the other side, untouched, with a wide-open look at the goal. She took a couple steps and fired top-shelf to beat 2015 National Goalie of the Year Caylee Waters, who was fantastic in her own right in this game.
But in the end, it was Whittle's magic moment that gave Maryland the victory. The Terps only had one assist on their eight goals, and it came on the first goal of the game as Caroline Wannen found Cummings down the right side. The more pressing problems for the Terrapins are that they turned the ball over too frequently and were only 1-7 on free position opportunities. Losing the draw control battle, 9-8, isn't terrible because UNC turned the ball over 11 times. However, better teams will not waste those opportunities against Maryland late in the season.
All in all, this was a gritty effort from Maryland women's lacrosse. The Terps didn't play consistently for 60 minutes, but they played hard and they kept their composure when UNC made their run. This defensive unit was very impressive in the first half and in the final 10 minutes of the game.
The Terrapins (3-0) will return to College Park to face Hofstra before embarking on a grueling stretch of road games at No. 2 Syracuse, No. 4 Florida and No. 16 Penn. We learned a lot about Maryland women's lacrosse this afternoon. We're about to learn a whole lot more.
Three things to know
1. Megan Taylor showed why she could be the starting goalie as a freshman
UNC took 11 shots in the first half and put seven of them on goal. Taylor made six saves and only allowed one to get by her. She was outstanding. The Tar Heels made their run in the second half and did score six goals, but Taylor and the defense were impressive. "You're only as good as you're next save," she told me after the Georgetown game.
The pressure is on for Emily Kift. She's going to have to be consistently great in order to stave off Megan Taylor.
2. Megan Whittle and Taylor Cummings were a dynamic duo
The high school teammates scored three of Maryland's four first half goals. Cummings did a little of everything in the first half, but Whittle was the star of the second half and the game. Her go-ahead goal, her third of the half, with 3:39 to play was a mesmerizing individual effort.
It is interesting to note that in Taylor Cummings' first two seasons, she lost two games to UNC. In her last two seasons with Whittle on the squad, she hasn't lost any. I might have an explanation. UNC has trouble with the two former McDonogh stars.
Megan Whittle played UNC in her second-ever collegiate game last season. She ended the game with three goals and Cummings scored three goals as well. Maryland won the game. Whittle and Cummings scored three goals apiece in last year's national championship game. The Terps took the title. This afternoon, Whittle scored four goals and Cummings pitched in with two. Six goals in each of their three games against the Tar Heels. 6-6-6. I don't know if there's any hidden meaning there, but Cummings and Whittle have certainly bedeviled North Carolina.
3. This team is really coming along but still has a great deal of work to do in order to three-peat
Maryland left a lot of opportunities out on Fetzer Field this afternoon. The Terps turned it over 10 times and allowed UNC to get back into the game despite chances to pad the lead. The lack of assists means that the ball wasn't moving around the way it should.
Maryland limited UNC to just one goal in the first half. Julia Braig and Steff Holmes both got burned for goals in the second half. The Tar Heels were going to score some goals sooner or later. The reason for that is because UNC's offense is really good and because the Tar Heels were going to take advantage of some of Maryland's younger, more inexperienced players.
The Tar Heels had a slew of chances in both the first and second halves but they didn't execute. This game could have gone very differently for both teams if they had been sharper.