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No. 3 Maryland women’s lacrosse holds on to take down Penn, 15-11

The Terps’ record remains unblemished after their eighth straight victory.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 3 Maryland women’s lacrosse experienced a slight hiccup in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game versus Penn.

After jumping out to an 8-2 lead, the Terps ceded three straight goals. They struggled to get shots past senior goalkeeper Krissy Kowalski and defend on ensuing Penn possessions. But with 3:02 left in the quarter, Maryland’s defense helped reestablish its offensive prowess.

Sophomore midfielder Shannon Smith forced the turnover on freshman attacker Keeley Block and away they went. Speeding down the field, Smith dished it off to junior attacker Libby May on the left side, who then quickly sent it the other direction from behind the net to graduate attacker Aurora Cordingley.

Cordingley surveyed the playing field for a moment before a precision cut by sophomore attacker Eloise Clevenger opened up an assist opportunity. The assist came in a flash, as Clevenger swung her stick forward in one, slick motion upon corralling the pass.

The ball found the top left corner of the cage, sparking a late, three-goal run that ultimately put the dagger in Penn’s hopes for an upset. The Quakers made a late push, but the end-of-quarter run allowed Maryland to hold onto a 15-11 victory to improve to 8-0 on the year.

“We struggled on the draw today, so we had to play a lot of defense in order to cause a lot of turnovers,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We were able to create some great offensive opportunities off of that and that was key to our success.”

For the seventh time this season Maryland struck first. May curled along the left side of the crease but lost control of the ball after being tripped up. The quick thinking of Clevenger, however, salvaged the possession.

The second-year attacker scooped up the ground ball and fired a shot into the back of the net in one motion, setting the tone for a dominant first quarter for the Terps.

Cordingley helped continue that pace. She assisted on the second goal of the quarter, making a quick pass to Smith following the initial eight-meter take.

After Penn’s first offensive set-piece was denied by junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling, Cordingley was able to score on the free position this time around. This goal notched the third goal in the first 3:35 of the game.

Although the Quakers got one back thanks to sophomore attack Lexi Edmonds, the Terps rattled off four straight to end the quarter, including five straight draw controls.

The highlight of the run came from junior attacker Kate Sites. With just over five minutes remaining and leading 6-1, Sites made her mark on the night with a phenomenal juke against sophomore midfielder Aly Feeley.

Her fake to the right caused both Feeley and herself to slightly slip. But Sites recovered in time to burst down the gut of the Quaker defense and fire in a high shot over Kowalski.

The game seemed all but over heading into the second quarter. With the offense firing on all cylinders and Sterling denying four shots, the Terps seemingly had this game wrapped around their finger.

Penn surged back, however, embarking on a 4-1 run to kick off the fresh 15 minutes.

Sophomore midfielder Maria Themelis was the catalyst, facilitating the first goal of the quarter before scoring twice herself. Themelis also collected a draw control during Penn’s resurgence, helping the draw control numbers level out heading into the break.

But prior to the break, Maryland was able to respond. Despite the excellent play of Kowalski in net, the Terps imposed its will down the stretch with three goals over the final three minutes to help regain the momentum.

While Maryland didn’t run away with its lead, the third quarter saw minimal change in the contest’s result. After the storied programs combined for 16 first-half goals, the third quarter saw just one goal from the Terps.

Fourteen turnovers (seven each) marked a sloppy start to the second half from both sides. The persistent rainy conditions may have played a factor in the overall decline in production.

“We missed a couple of our easy opportunities which could have put our foot down and made a difference in the third quarter,” Reese said. “It was sloppy, it was messy, it was miserable out there, but at the same time we need to be able to execute no matter what the circumstances are.”

Despite Penn’s poor showing in the third quarter, its efficiency on the draw circle helped put the Terps on its heels down the stretch. As the clock dwindled down, Penn put together a solid three-goal run in the fourth after not scoring for over 20 minutes.

But even after Penn collected its 13th draw control of the game, its third of the quarter, it was Maryland’s defense that once again translated to its offense.

Junior defender Aiden Peduzzi forced a turnover with 7:22 left in the game. Freshman midfielder Jordyn Lipkin then put the finishing touches on the drawn-out possession to stave off Penn’s upset bid.

An additional goal from Lipkin and Leubecker’s fifth of the outing finalized another tremendous showing for Reese’s squad.

Three things to know

1. Maryland’s defense was crucial in turning the tides. Sterling made some key stops in net to deny Penn’s offense from gaining too much momentum, but the main factor on defense came from the ability to cause turnovers. The turnovers forced by the Terps led to its offense on several occurrences. Maryland caused 13 on the night, with eight leading to scores on the ensuing possession.

“We’re not necessarily going out of our way to cause [turnovers], but it’s more so when everyone’s doing their job and everyone’s shifting the way we practiced,” graduate defender Abby Bosco said.

2. Hannah Leubecker built off her Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week performance. After bursting onto the scene with a team-leading 58 goals in 2021, Leubecker has taken a back seat in the offensive headlines this season due to the arrival of Cordingley. While Cordingley has provided Tewaaraton-worthy numbers on offense, Leubecker has been playing at an All-American level right beside the Johns Hopkins transfer. Against Rutgers, she had a team-high six points on four goals and two assists. Her five goals against Penn put her output at 27 on the year. It was her sixth hat trick of the season and fourth straight.

3. The Terps eased their foot off the gas. Maryland held Penn scoreless for 22:03, spanning from the second quarter to the fourth. But the Quakers were still able to close the gap down the stretch and make it a game. The 11 goals allowed broke a five-game streak of single-digit goals allowed for Maryland’s defense, while 15 goals match its season-low on offense. The Terps still won in convincing fashion, but the final score could have been a greater margin.

“[Kowalski] got us a little bit out of our rhythm,” Bosco said. “She’s a great goalie, but we practice against great goalies everyday.”

Lipkin added, “We need to pay more attention to where we are shooting our shots and not just shooting them to shoot. We’re confident we’re able to do it, we just need to remember that we’re all good shooters at the end of the day.”