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No. 9 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. Saint Joseph’s preview

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The Terps head to Philadelphia to kick off their first full season since 2019.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

A second straight unusual season for Maryland women’s lacrosse ended in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament — the earliest exit under head coach Cathy Reese since 2008.

Packed with reinforcements, however, the Terps are aiming for a deep run. From impact transfers to returning studs, this may be Reese’s most stacked unit since the team’s 2019 national championship.

“We’re really excited as a staff just to really see where we are at this point,” Reese said. “I’ve been really pleased with the whole transition of this because this can sometimes go either way. For us it’s been a very positive thing and a very positive experience for everybody.”

The first task on Maryland’s full slate of nonconference opponents is the Atlantic 10’s Saint Joseph’s Hawks — picked to finish second in the A-10’s preseason coaches poll.

Barring any unforeseen conflicts, this should be the first complete season since 2019, a first for Maryland’s top-notch class of juniors. With all they’ve gone through, players such as midfielder Shaylan Ahearn are ready to step up as vocal leaders this season.

“Even though I haven’t had as many real seasons under my belt, I still feel ready to help our team and kind of take over that role ... ,” Ahearn said. “Our seniors that graduated last year with Catie, Brindi, all of them, they’ve kind of gotten me ready and a lot of my teammates ready to take that on.”

The ever-important season opener will take place Saturday, Feb. 12, at 3:30 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN Plus.

Saint Joseph’s Hawks

2021 Record: 10-6 (6-2 Atlantic 10)

Head coach Alex Kahoe is one of three Maryland alumni apart of the Saint Joseph’s coaching staff. She is joined by second-year assistants Julia Braig and Caroline Steele, who ended their careers in College Park on a high note with a national championship in 2019. Kahoe too ended her Maryland career in 2000 with a national title and has spent eight seasons with the Hawks. Last year was the team’s first A-10 tournament final under Kahoe after four consecutive semifinal berths. The Hawks have high hopes to clinch its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in 2022.

Players to know

Lauren Figura, senior attacker, No. 7 — There are big shoes to fill on offense as Saint Joseph’s loses 2021 Atlantic 10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year Stephanie Kelly. Figura, coming off of an A-10 Second Team nod, should become the quintessential leader of the attack this season after leading the team in goals with 46 last year. While she finished with 37 points less than Kelly, Figura should continue to supply the Hawks with high-intensity scoring, while also absorbing some of Kelly’s 91 assists from the previous year.

Sophia Kolkka, senior midfielder, No. 9 — Kolkka faces a similar position as Figura. The departure of A-10 First Team midfielder Bridget Cerciello gives way to Kolkka filling in as the leader of the midfield. Despite only starting in seven games last season, Kolkka set a career pace in goals (15) and points (18). She burst onto the scene in the A-10 Tournament, scoring four goals in the semifinal round against Richmond before supplying one of seven total in the championship match versus UMass.

Jorden Concordia, sophomore goalkeeper, No. 3 — With a lot of unknowns on this new look Hawks roster, the goalkeeper position is the most mysterious. Concordia is one of two goalkeepers on the roster after transferring from Syracuse. She has big shoes to fill as not only a rookie but in replacing A-10 Second Team goalkeeper Melissa Semkiw.

Strength

Familiarity. With so many top-notch players gone from the previous season, there aren’t many on-field strengths that stand out quite yet. What could be the biggest advantage in the team’s arsenal, however, is the coaching staff’s familiarity with the Maryland system. With all three coaches having played under Reese in College Park, they may be able to formulate a game plan that will work to exploit the Terps’ weaknesses.

Weakness

Roster turnover. On top of losing the aforementioned Kelly, Cerciello and Semkiw, Saint Joseph’s lost an additional first-teamer in Julia Pash and second-teamer Sarah Platt. They also bring in eight transfers, including three from Syracuse. There is a ton of change with this team and an opener against a program like Maryland will surely be an uphill battle. It may take one game or it may take ten, but this new-look roster seems to be in for a long afternoon against the Terps.

Three things to watch

1. How will this Maryland team gel with one another? As much as Saint Joseph’s has gone through significant roster changes, the Terps have gone through their fair share of turnover as well. The losses of Brindi Griffin, Lizzie Colson and Catie May are most prevalent, but it’s more so the plethora of additions for Maryland that puts the team’s chemistry into question. Former Johns Hopkins attacker Aurora Cordingley headlines an impact group of transfers that will be seeing their first action with Maryland on Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see how the returning group meshes with the slew of transfers.

“Definitely playing against her has been fun, but playing with her is a lot more fun,” midfielder Grace Griffin said. “I think she’s added a lot to her offense and the team overall. Always open to learn and then throw in advice and suggestions when ever she sees fit.”

2. What can be expected of Hannah Leubecker? Leubecker burst onto the scene last year with a phenomenal 58-goal season. It was a sophomore surge after tallying just two goals in six games during her freshman stint. She scored in every game and found the back of the net seven times on two different occasions in the first five games of the season. What will Leubecker have in store for year three? Another season coming close to her 2021 output could put her among some of the Maryland greats. But the first order of business is coming out with a bang against Saint Joseph’s.

3. Are there any dark horse rotation players to keep an eye on? The depth at Reese’s disposal this season is unmatched over the past few seasons. There’s star power at the top with midfielders Griffin and Ahearn and gritty defensive pieces like goalkeeper Emily Sterling and former Penn defender Abby Bosco. But are there some unheralded pieces that will make their mark on the program?

Reese has talked highly of a few underrated players. The speedy attacker Kate Sites, who missed all of last year due to injury, has been one name popping up in advance of Saturday’s opener. Another name has been freshman midfielder Jordyn Lipkin, who scored 232 goals across two and a half seasons with Millburn High School in New Jersey. Reese expects big things from the No. 8 recruit of the Class of 2021.

“I’ve loved what I’ve seen from [Jordyn] ... she’s phenomenal,” Reese said. “Her on the field playing in the midfield next to Grace, that’s gonna help develop her, help her grow and gain confidence.”