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No. 5 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. No. 7 Florida preview

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Maryland’s home opener comes off the heels of a gritty road win over ranked Virginia.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

In its first true nonconference road match against a ranked opponent in almost two years, No. 5 Maryland women’s lacrosse showcased its resiliency in a 17-13 victory.

After being shutout in the second quarter, 5-0, head coach Cathy Reese’s squad responded out of halftime with an 8-0 third quarter. Despite an intense fourth quarter, the strong start to the second half proved to be the difference maker.

“I think the biggest takeaway overall was I think we learned a lot about ourselves that game,” Reese said. “Being able to reassess and make some changes and come out in the third quarter to go on an 8-0 run was awesome.”

Up next is another tough nonconference ranked opponent — only this time it will be in Maryland’s backyard. The eighth-ranked Florida Gators return to College Park, over two years after its last visit on Feb. 15, 2020. It was on this day that the Gators ended Maryland’s 86-game home win streak.

Saturday will mark a prime opportunity for the Terps to get one back, but the team has made it abundantly clear that they are not worried about the past.

“We’re here to focus on us and do the best that we can,” midfielder Grace Griffin said. “Looking too far in the past or looking too far in the future can disrupt that moment.”

Maryland’s home opener will take place Saturday at noon and can be watched on Big Ten Plus.

Florida Gators (1-1, 0-0 AAC)

2021 Record: 18-3 (10-0 AAC)

Head coach Amanda O’Leary has been the head coach for the Gators since the program’s inception in 2007. This past season was another example of her dominance at the helm, going undefeated in conference play for the sixth straight season, with the team’s last loss coming when they were a member of the Big East (April 18, 2015 vs. UConn). Although a national title has eluded O’Leary and the Gators, a career record of 349-114 puts her among the nation’s top tier level of coaches.

Players to know

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Reznick (No. 18) — After redshirting her freshman season and seeing the field just eight times before the coronavirus pandemic stalled play in her second year, Reznick became a bonafide star in the cage for the Gators. She led the country in both save percentage (.567) and goals against average (6.42). The accolades in 2021 were endless and a full season should bring more to her individual trophy case.

Sophomore midfielder Danielle Pavinelli (No. 10) — Pavinelli is off to a torrid start to her sophomore campaign. With 14 points on four assists and a staggering 10 goals in two games, Florida’s hottest offensive piece has fit the billing of her AAC Freshman of the Year honors. Pavinelli is coming off of a six-goal outing against North Carolina, which supplied over half of the team’s scoring output.

Redshirt junior midfielder Paisley Eagan (No. 38) — Florida bolstered two unanimous selections to the American’s Preseason All-Conference Team — Reznicks and Eagan. In 2021, Eagan flexed her skills as a multi-purpose midfielder. With 32 goals, 45 draw controls and 19 ground balls, Eagan earned All-AAC Second Team honors. She has been a bit quiet to start this season, collecting just one goal on one shot, but expect Eagan to start heating up anytime soon.

Strength

Defense. Not only do the Gators have one the nation’s most impenetrable goalies in its lineup, but they also host two additional all-conference defenders. Preseason Defender of the Year Emma Wightman and Becky Browndorf helped the defense limit opponents to just seven goals a game. It’s a tough defense to break and Maryland should have its hands full on Saturday.

“They’ve got a defense that can pack it in and so we know we’re going to have to pick our shot accordingly and need to make sure that we’re taking advantage of the opportunities that we get with them,” Reese said.

Weakness

Draw controls. There aren’t many weaknesses to point out for the Gators, but its plus-one draw control margin may reveal an area to exploit. Especially given Maryland’s prowess thus far on the draw circle, Florida could find some trouble getting into its offensive set pieces early.

Three things to know

1. Will the change from halves to quarters continue to affect momentum? The NCAA made a significant rule change over the offseason, switching the traditional halves format to a four, 15-minute quarter format. It’s clear from the Virginia game the impact this new change has had on momentum, as the Terps and Cavaliers traded shutout quarters in the second and third.

“It’s just one of those things that every single time we stop we have to remember what we’re here for, what the game plan is,” Griffin said. “I love a few extra breaks here and there ... but we’re adapting.”

2. Can Maryland dominate the draw circle? The key to Maryland’s victories thus far this season has been its persistence on the draw circle. Gathering the ball early and scoring with ferocity has helped the team produce solidly on offense with an 18.5 goals per game average. With Florida having struggled in that department to start the season, this factor of the game should have a significant impact on which team comes out victorious. Penn transfer Abby Bosco — Maryland’s leader in draw controls with 17 — figures to be the catalyst for the Terps in this top-10 matchup. Her teammates love how well she has fit into her new environment.

“It’s easy for someone like Abby to adjust,” defender Torie Barretta said. “She just fit in really easily and it’s nice to have her on our side now.”

3. Florida will be coming off of a loss. In sports it’s tough to gauge how a team will respond following a loss, especially a close one. On Feb. 19, Florida lost at home to No. 2 North Carolina, 15-11. Will the Gators take what they learned from the loss and bounce back in an emphatic way? Or will they not be able to shake the less than ideal outcome and stumble against another tough opponent like the Terps? Nationally, Florida has been anointed as one of the country’s powerhouses, but its response following the loss to North Carolina will reveal the team’s character.