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No. 4 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. Villanova preview

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The undefeated Terps have given up nine goals over its past two outings.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

A home-away split against CAA opponents ended in Williamsburg, Virginia, last Saturday, with Maryland women’s lacrosse prevailing against William & Mary, 19-7.

After taking care of business on Mar. 1 against Delaware, 15-2, the Terps’ perfect start reached five wins. While attacker Aurora Cordingley and the offense has been the story thus far for Maryland, its defense shined the past two games.

Maryland will look to keep the good times rolling on Saturday when it hosts Villanova.

Originally scheduled for 1 p.m., Saturday’s game has been moved up an hour to noon due to impending weather. The game can be watched on Big Ten Plus.

Villanova Wildcats (2-5)

2021 Record: 6-11, 4-6 Big East

Head coach Jill Batcheller is in her first year with the Wildcats after spending time coaching Bryant and most recently Drexel. Through her three years with the crosstown Dragons, Batcheller compiled a 24-15 overall record, including a 13-3 showing in 2021. It marked the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the program and her impact has clearly translated to 2022 with the team’s top-25 pedigree in the Inside Lacrosse polls. Now with Villanova, it has been a bit of shaky start to her tenure, but Batcheller has proven in the past her ability to rebuild in short order.

Players to know

Senior defender Sydney Frank (No. 11) — Frank was named Big East Preseason Defender of the Year after collecting 40 ground balls and forcing 25 turnovers during her junior season. She also tallied 68 draw controls. Although Villanova hasn’t faired too well this season, it did just limit La Salle to three goals in its latest outing. Frank leads a defense that has shown its strengths at times this season, but a league-low six caused turnovers per game causes concern. Frank, however, is more than capable of turning that figure around.

Senior midfielder Libby McKenna (No. 14) — McKenna, along with fellow senior midfielder Alexa Tsahalis, was named to the Preseason All-Big East team. Her play speaks for itself, as McKenna has scored in all but one game this season — versus Rutgers on March 5. On 39 shots, the senior has scored 12 times, which is second-best on the team.

Senior midfielder Caroline Curnal (No. 22) — The Wildcat with the distinction of holding the team-high in goals scored is Curnal. She has 13 on the year, including a five-goal showing against Saint Joseph’s on March 2. The senior has scored in five straight games, but missed Villanova’s latest matchup against La Salle.

Strength

Multiple scoring options. Having a top heavy group of scorers can be both a benefit and a cost, but in Villanova’s case, much like Maryland’s, having a handful of all-conference threats can be daunting to opponents. Although Villanova averages just over 10 goals a game, the aforementioned trio of McKenna, Tsahalis and Curnal can turn it on in the attacking third. Junior midfielder Addie Fischer joins the group to add a fourth threat with 10 or more goals on the season.

Weakness

Turnover trade-off. Villanova gives away the second-most turnovers in the Big East (18.43) and causes the least (6). That trade-off (-12.43 margin) is extremely problematic. Especially against a well-oiled machine like Maryland, this game could get out of hand if Villanova doesn’t curtail this department’s shortcomings.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland’s defense continue its dominant stretch? As previously mentioned, Maryland has given up just nine goals in its past two contests. While the teams the Terps have played over that stretch haven’t been the cream of the crop, it’s a promising sign for a team that’s narrative has been solely focused on its offensive prowess. Villanova boasts an inefficient offense, yet has tons of potential threats in the attacking third. It’ll be interesting to see if Maryland’s defense continues to put away its opponents without much resistance.

2. How will draw controls shape out? Midfielder Shaylan Ahearn has been a force on the draw circle this season, but Curnal presents a tough challenge for the 2021 All-Big Ten Second Teamer. Curnal has 49 draw controls on the season, good for an average of 8.17. The only issue holding back this showdown is if Curnal will be active. She missed the last game versus La Salle, so it remains to be seen if Villanova’s top option on the draw circle will be present to combat Ahearn.

3. Can Aurora Cordingley keep it going? The stretch that attacker Aurora Cordingley is on to start her Maryland career is nothing short of freakish. When she isn’t attacking the cage with masterful stick work and jukes, she is using the extra pass to find an open teammate. When she isn’t collecting assists, she is the aggressor on offense, scoring at will. It’s been some time since head coach Cathy Reese has had a player of this caliber at her disposal. The sky’s the limit as Cordingley looks to continue her national player of the year campaign.