No. 1 Maryland women's lacrosse won its first-ever Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday afternoon after defeating No. 15 Northwestern, 12-9.
Maryland's last three games against Northwestern were routs. The Terrapins beat the Wildcats by 11, 12 and 13 goals respectively. It was clear that this game would not follow that pattern. The Wildcats were playing on their home field for the Big Ten Tournament title. The stakes were high.
After Selena Lasota's goal just 2:19 into the game, the Terps scored four straight over the next 10:39 to take a 4-1 lead. Northwestern responded with four straight goals of their own in the span of just 2:27 to retake the lead with 11:31 left to play in the half. The two teams traded goals until Wannen scored with 1:27 remaining in the half to knot the game at six. Wannen's first-half hat trick was matched by Christina Esposito's hat trick for Northwestern. The Terps and Wildcats went into halftime tied at six.
The Wildcats outplayed the Terrapins in the first 30 minutes. Northwestern had more shots, more draw controls, more ground balls and a better clear percentage. It was the first time all year that Maryland was tied going into the intermission. The Terps trailed Johns Hopkins, 6-3, at the half earlier in the season, but came back to win that game, 10-8.
The second half was the difference in the game. Bryn Boucher kicked off the scoring for Maryland just 56 seconds into the second half. Danita Stroup answered for Northwestern just 1:10 later, but the Terps went on a 5-0 run that put the game away. Megan Whittle's goal with 20:57 remaining started the run, and Taylor Cummings, Caroline Steele, Nadine Hadnagy pitched in with goals before Whittle bookmarked the run with another score.
Hadnagy's goal was highlight-reel material. She grabbed a ground ball and went coast-to-coast. The junior defender and captain got picked up late, fired an off-balance shot and scored for her first career goal.
Maryland held Northwestern scoreless for a little over 26 minutes as the Wildcats scored two late goals in the final two minutes. This team still has areas to improve on. The defense was shaky at times, and the Terps turned the ball over 14 times. Maryland can't afford to turn the ball over repeatedly against great teams.
Alice Mercer, Caroline Wannen, Megan Taylor and Taylor Cummings were named to the All-Tournament Team. Cummings was named the Big Ten Tournament MVP. She finished with two goals, four ground balls and six draw controls.
This senior class has made three consecutive NCAA Finals and won back-to-back national championships. They had won two Big Ten regular season titles, but never the Big Ten Tournament title. Until today. Maryland's seniors now have one last bit of business to take care of: a third straight national championship.
Three things to know:
1) Maryland's offense looks very different without Megan Whittle
Ally Mueller's return for Northwestern allowed the Wildcats to face-guard Whittle. They tried to take her out of the offense, and Maryland did just that. The Terps played six-on-six for most of the game. The offense wasn't as smooth without Whittle there for dodges. When Mueller went down with an injury and had to leave the game, Whittle scored shortly afterwards. Whittle crossed the 60-goal threshold for the second year in a row.
However, the Terrapins were very efficient. They scored 12 goals on only 19 shots. They were six-of-10 in the first half and six-of-nine over the final 30 minutes.
2) Maryland's defense must be more consistent
The Terps still haven't given up 10 goals in a game, but that streak looked like it was in jeopardy today. Northwestern scored six goals in the first half and scored a pair of goals just 14 seconds apart late in the game.
Zoe Stukenberg didn't look entirely comfortable on defense against Rutgers, but looked a little better against Northwestern. Julia Braig got beat on a few plays by Esposito. Braig is a freshman, but she has to minimize her mistakes, especially with the NCAA Tournament coming up.
Megan Taylor had a great game with seven big saves, and Alice Mercer and Nadine Hadnagy did a good job of neutralizing Selena Lasota and Kaleigh Craig for most of the game.
3) The Terps will enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated and as the top seed.
Maryland looked sloppy at times today, but the Terps found a way to win. Their leading scorer was being face-guarded, but the Terps found a way to win. The Terps had never gone into halftime tied this season. They found a way to win. After Danita Stroup's goal with 27:54 left in the game, Maryland held Northwestern scoreless for 26:22. It was an impressive and inspired effort on offense and defense. Northwestern was playing at a high level coming into the game, and the Terps managed to weather the storm and get the win.
The Terps are 19-0 and have beaten all comers this season. They'll be back in action for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament next week at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park.