Top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Maryland women's lacrosse will start its Big Ten slate at home against No. 14 Northwestern on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m.
These two have history
The two programs have put a strangle-hold on the sport, not too dissimilar from Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies in women's basketball. Since 2005, there has been only one season where the Terps or Wildcats didn't win the national championship. One. The Wildcats won five straight national championships from 2005-2009, lost one to Maryland in 2010 and then picked up the next two in a row. Northwestern's run of seven titles in eight years would be the greatest in the history of the sport if not for the legendary and historic Maryland run from 1995-2001 where the Terps took home seven consecutive national championships. In the last 21 years, there have been only four years where the Terps or Wildcats weren't crowned national champions.
Needless to say, these two programs have a lot of tradition, history and talent. This is an intense rivalry because of the tradition and the history between the two schools, but also because of the coaches stalking the sidelines. Maryland's Cathy Reese and Northwestern's Kelly Amonte Hiller were teammates in their college playing days at the University of Maryland.
These two normally play each other close because both schools are among the most talented in the country every single season. However, last year was different. Maryland traveled to Evanston to open Big Ten play. Maryland was ranked No. 1, Northwestern was ranked No. 4 and the game was televised on the Big Ten Network. The game was close for the first 10-15 minutes, but Maryland ended up dominating the Wildcats. When the clock hit zero, the score was 16-5 in favor of the Terps.
Maryland and Northwestern met up again in College Park later that season in the Elite Eight. Maryland was the No. 1 overall seed and Northwestern was the ninth-seed. "There's no way we're going to see Northwestern lose by double digits again," I thought. I thought wrong. The Terps were unrelenting and beat the Wildcats 17-5.
That brings us to this year's matchup.
Maryland has gelled much quicker than I would have thought. The Terps only returned five starters from last year's national championship team, and the team has some inexperienced contributors all over the field.
Taylor Cummings still runs the show for Maryland. She can score, pass, rack up draw controls, grab ground balls and cause turnovers. She does it all. After leading the team in goals as a freshman, Megan Whittle just keeps on scoring. She had nine goals in two games last week. Taylor Hensh, Kacie Longo and Caroline Wannen all saw some action last season, but they've been thrown into major roles this season and have performed very well. As good as the Terps have been on offense on the road, they're even deadlier at home. In Maryland's four home games this season, the Terps have put up 18 or more goals in all four contests.
While Maryland sports the country's third-ranked scoring offense, the Terps can lay claim to one of the nation's best defenses as well. Freshman Megan Taylor has been phenomenal in goal. Maryland holds opponents to 6.75 goals per game, good for the seventh-best mark in the country, and has yet to allow 10 or more goals in a game. Factor in that Maryland has played four ranked teams on the road this season, and that stat becomes even more impressive. Alice Mercer and Nadine Hadnagy are the two veteran defenders that will be called upon to stop Northwestern's most potent scoring threats.
Northwestern has been a bit of an enigma this season. Is this the team that beat top-five Duke on the road in the season opener or the team that lost to No. 12 Louisville on the road by six goals? Northwestern's schedule did them no favors. The Wildcats played their first four games against ranked teams, three of which were in the top 10, on the road or at a neutral site. Northwestern started its season by beating No. 4 Duke, but lost to No. 10 Virginia, No. 2 Syracuse and No. 12 Louisville. Northwestern is sitting at 4-4 going into Thursday's game, but the Wildcats are still a dangerous team.
Selena Lasota was last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year. She can flat-out score and is really tough to defend when she goes left to right. After last year's breakout season, Lasota has been drawing a lot more attention, leading to her team-high 27 turnovers so far this season. She's still second on the team in goals, but there's a lot of pressure on Sheila Nesselbush, Christina Esposito, Kaleigh Craig and Shelby Fredericks to perform at a high level.
Northwestern doesn't have the scoring balance that Maryland brings to the table. The Terps have six different players with double digit goals this season. The Wildcats have two.
Mallory Weisse is Northwestern's freshman goalie. At five-foot-nine, she is a big, physical presence in goal. She had some valuable experience as the captain of the U.S. U-19 team, and some of that has translated to the college game. She has made nine or more saves four times this season. That speaks both to her ability and the problems with Northwestern's defense. The Wildcats have simply allowed too many shots.
Northwestern hasn't played a road game in almost a month. The Wildcats have struggled on the road, and Maryland is lights out at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. The Terps have beaten the country's best teams on the road, and now, they get to welcome a ranked, conference rival to their literal home turf for a big night game that will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
This is a game you won't want to miss.