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No. 8 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. No. 12 Princeton preview

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Junior goalie Emily Sterling has set career-highs in saves in her past two outings.

Photo courtesy of Zach Bland, Maryland Athletics

No. 8 Maryland women’s lacrosse is on a roll after losing its first game of the season on March 26.

Wins over Georgetown and two Big Ten opponents — Johns Hopkins and Penn State — have put the nation back on high alert. While the Terps’ offense has averaged 15 goals per game over this recent stretch, the defense, particularly that of junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling, has been the driving force.

Allowing an average of four goals per game since the loss to James Madison, graduate defender Abby Bosco, among others, has stepped up to plate. Especially given the injury to senior captain Torie Barretta, the backline has been especially impressive.

Not all shots can be denied, however, which leaves Sterling to clean up. The junior has been nothing short of spectacular, corralling career-highs in back-to-back games with 12 saves versus Johns Hopkins followed by 13 against Penn State.

Sterling’s nation-leading .560 save percentage will be put to the test in a tough road contest versus No. 12 Princeton. This will be the Terps’ second exposure to the Ivy League, with the last result coming in a 15-11 victory over Penn back on March 23.

Wednesday night’s game will start at 7 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN Plus.

No. 12 Princeton Tigers (7-2, 2-0 Ivy League)

2021 record: Did not play due to coronavirus pandemic

Head coach Chris Sailer is in the midst of her 36th season with Princeton. Sailer’s legacy speaks for itself, with the Tigers having won three national titles, 15 Ivy League titles and 26 NCAA Tournament berths since taking over in 1987. The milestones don’t stop there, as in 2019 Sailer became the first Division I lacrosse coach, men’s or women’s, to notch career win No. 400 with a single program.

This season, the Tigers have dropped just two matchups which came in the form of back-to-back losses to then-No. 7 Loyola and then-No. 5 Stony Brook. Princeton fell to Loyola by just one goal even though the Greyhounds outscored the Tigers 7-3 in the opening quarter. Since then, Princeton has picked up another win, when it defeated Brown 18-6 on April 9.

Players to know

Senior attacker Kyla Sears (No. 7) — One of two Tewaaraton watch list members on the Tigers roster, the veteran Sears would be approaching 200 career goals had the 2020 season not been upended. Currently, Sears has 171 goals during her four years with the Tigers. Added onto her 79 assists and Sears has amassed 250 career points, which slots her in at third on the all-time list.

Senior defender Marge Donovan (No. 33) — Donovan occupies the second spot on the Tewaaraton watch list among Princeton players. Her veteran leadership on the defensive end is a tremendous complimentary piece to Sears’s play on the offense. Donovan leads the team with 57 draw controls and 12 caused turnovers.

Sophomore attacker Grace Tauckus (No. 19) — Tauckus flashed her potential in the five starts she drew during her freshman year in 2020, scoring 17 goals, winning nine draw controls, causing six turnovers and collecting three ground balls. Tauckus is currently fifth in the Ivy League in goals per game average (2.56).

Strength

Shooting percentage. Princeton is one of top-35 teams in the country in shot percentage. They get the shots they want and deliver on the offensive end, leading to an Ivy League-best 15.78 goals per game average. Its .455 shot percentage, which also the best mark in its conference, is indicative of Princeton’s balanced approach on offense.

Weakness

Goalkeeping. As good as the Tigers are at generating offense, its anchor on defense has been less potent. Donovan and the backline do a good job at generating turnovers and forcing difficult shots, but former Ivy League Goalie of the Year Sam Fish has not been able to replicate her 2019 peak. Fish allows the third-most goals per game in the conference with a 12.56 average, but Princeton’s loaded schedule may be a significant factor in her numbers.

Three things to watch

1. Another Ivy League test for the Terps. Although Maryland defeated Penn, 15-11, it was a game of runs that almost did them in. Just four goals scored in the second half compared to 11 in the first. This unevenness between halves has popped up at times throughout the year due to the change to a quarters format in women’s lacrosse, but can Maryland hold off any detrimental momentum swings against Princeton?

2. Will Sam Fish shine? The former first team All-Ivy League recipient has not played up to her standards so far this season. Blame the two-year hiatus, but Fish’s stats have been rather disappointing. She has allowed less than 10 goals just once this season. With a marquee showdown versus the scorching hot Sterling on the other end, will Fish make Maryland’s job on offense as challenging as she has proven in the past?

3. Nearing the finish line. Maryland has surpassed its win total from last season and has its eyes set on finishing the regular season with no more additional losses to its name. It has been a great bounce back season for the Terps and with three games left on the slate following Wednesday night’s Princeton matchup, Maryland will be looking to finish the year on a seven-game win streak.