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No. 4 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. No. 12 Rutgers preview

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The Terps split the season series against the Scarlet Knights last spring.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

No. 4 Maryland women’s lacrosse improved to 6-0 last weekend with a 19-7 victory over Villanova.

It marked the fourth straight game in which the defense allowed less than ten goals. The Terps have reached that mark in five of its six games.

To go along with its stupendous defense, Maryland has boasted an unstoppable offense this season. Led by graduate attacker Aurora Cordingley, who tallied 11 points (six goals, five assists), the Terps are averaging 18 goals a game, good for third in the nation.

Sunday’s Big Ten opener will pit two of the conference’s top contenders against one another at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.

No. 12 Rutgers comes into College Park with an 8-0 record and the eighth-ranked offense in the nation. The game will be broadcasted on ESPNU with the opening draw set for noon.

No. 12 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-0, 0-0)

2021 record: 7-9, 5-7 Big Ten

Head coach Melissa Lehman has built Rutgers into a powerhouse after just two complete seasons. Since taking over in 2020, although the record hasn’t been the best indication of her success at the helm (20-13), Rutgers climbed up the national ranks with six-ranked wins in 2021. Under Lehman, the Scarlet Knights clinched just their second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history in 2021, which included their first tournament victory.

Players to know

Junior defender Meghan Ball (No. 4) — Ball has been the best all-around player for the Scarlet Knights this season, which has earned her a spot on the Tewaaraton Watch List after not starting the season on the list. After an outstanding 2021, the junior is once again at the top of the team’s leaderboard in draw controls (47), ground balls (21) and caused turnovers (18).

Graduate attackers Taralyn Naslonski (No. 11) & Stephanie Kelly (No. 6) — The two leading scorers on the Scarlet Knights form a formidable 1-2 punch in the attack. Naslonski (30 goals) had 34 all of last season, while Kelly (29 goals) scored 45 goals during her senior year at Saint Joseph’s. Kelly leads Rutgers in points with 14 goals and 24 assists. Naslonski places second on that list with 36 points.

Junior midfielder Cassidy Spilis (No. 8) — The lone Preseason Tewaaraton Watch List member on the roster has put up 29 goals through eight games after leading the team in 2021 with 49 goals. Spilis picked up a hat trick in both appearances against Maryland last season, but her nine goals against Northwestern on April 30, 2021, helped to clinch All-Big Ten First Team honors.

Strength

End to end play. Rutgers’ goals per game average has jumped from 12.19 last season to 16.12 in 2022. Naslonski and Spilis were a great tandem last season, but add in Kelly plus veteran attacker Marin Hartshorn and the offense has flourished this year. The offense is a force to be reckoned with, but equally so is the defense. Ball leads an excellent unit that holds the second-best score margin in the Big Ten.

Weakness

Turnovers. There isn’t much in Rutgers’ play to nitpick, but the one area where it falls a bit off of its pedestal is the turnover department. The Scarlet Knights average 15.38 turnovers per game reaching 19 giveaways twice this season and combining for 36 in its past two games. Most of those turnovers have been unforced too, with opponents averaging just 5.25 caused turnovers a game.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland go toe-to-toe on the draw circle? With Ball on the opposite end and midfielder Shaylan Ahearn’s status in question after exiting the Villanova game early, the draw circle could be a huge difference-maker in this one. Reese lauded her team’s adjustment following Ahearn’s departure, noting the play of freshman attacker Hailey Russo as well as midfielders Shannon Smith and Jordyn Lipkin.

It took some time for the trio to gain its footing, but the ability to adapt was a promising sign for the Terps if Ahearn was forced to miss more time.

2. Aurora Cordingley. Again. There truly is no stopping Cordingley right now. She has garnered two USA Lacrosse National Player of the Week awards through just six games with the Terps. Coming off of her second double-digit scoring outing of the young season, there really is no number too outlandish to predict for Cordingley. This stretch of hers has been unparalleled and no matter what Cordingley does the game prior, there’s no reason to believe yet that she can’t top it.

3. Is Rutgers ready for the upper-tier of the Big Ten? The Scarlet Knights showed flashes last season. With a historic 8-0 start this year, Rutgers has put the rest of the Big Ten on notice. The new kid on the block will look to enter the conversation with a bang with a road victory on Sunday. Maryland and Northwestern have been the cream of the crop in the Big Ten for some time, but some new blood could assert itself with a marquee victory.