At this point last season for Maryland women’s lacrosse, the offense and defense existed on different wavelengths. In one game the defense would thrive while the offense would fizzle out, then the following game saw the sides trade places.
This season, however, the two have worked hand in hand with one another. And that was on display at Sherrerd Field against No. 12 Princeton.
Out of the halftime intermission, junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling exited the cage to pick off a pass attempt by junior midfielder Maria Pansini. The abrupt end to Princeton’s opening possession segued into a fast break by the Terps.
Fourteen seconds following the clear, the speedy junior attacker Hannah Leubecker burst down the right side of the field, beating senior defender Olivia Pugh and scoring the tenth goal of the night, doubling up Princeton in the process.
It was that end-to-end play by the Terps that set them apart from a poised Princeton squad. Maryland secured its fourth straight win and improved to 6-0 on the road with the 19-9 victory.
“As everything’s settled in I think you can see the confidence grow on both sides,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “Everyone was really unified and I think we’ve got something special here in College Park this year.”
The opening draw was a messy one, and that translated to the opening possession for the Terps. Graduate midfielder Grace Griffin took the ball the length of the field and fired off a wild shot that was easily denied by senior goalkeeper Sam Fish.
After an uncharacteristic start from its captain, Maryland couldn’t recover on defense.
Junior attacker Kate Mulham was the first to pierce a goal past Sterling before sophomore attacker Grace Tauckus doubled Princeton’s lead just over two minutes later.
Standout senior attacker Kyla Sears provided great fuel to the Tiger offense early as she tallied two consecutive assists. The second was a great find down low to freshman midfielder McKenzie Blake, which put the Terps in an early 3-0 hole.
Maryland faced its largest deficit to start a game all season. While the defense down the stretch supplied the offense with a ton of chances, there lacked a certain fluidity.
“We were in a hole and it just kept going and it felt like every possession they could score,” Reese said. “I thought we worked the clock well. I thought we possessed the ball a lot better as we went through the course of the game and made smarter decisions.”
Junior attacker Libby May put her team on the board with a couple of fake spins that opened up the shooting lane, but aside from May’s goal, the remaining 7:38 of the quarter proved to be challenging.
Sterling and the rest of the defense provided plenty of stops, but it wasn’t until the final seconds that Maryland put together some much-needed offense.
With 21 seconds on the clock, graduate attacker Aurora Cordingley found sophomore attacker Eloise Clevenger for the team’s second goal of the evening. Then, after graduate defender Abby Bosco forced a Princeton turnover, May turned on the jets to initiate a buzzer-beating score, finding Cordingley for the wide-open goal with 0.1 seconds to spare.
Although the Terps didn’t immediately carry that momentum into the second period, the offense had officially woken up.
The Tigers scored 32 seconds in, but Leubecker and Clevenger rewarded the Terps with their first lead of the contest. Even after Sears tied it up via the free position, Maryland punched back, with May and Cordingley adding to their impressive outings with two more goals.
Cordingley’s goal was particularly noteworthy, as the team’s leading scorer juked her defender to oblivion before bouncing a shot past Fish.
The half crawled to a close, but not before Maryland jetted ahead, 9-5. The Terps held an 11-6 shot advantage in the quarter, leading to a plus-eight margin across the first 30 minutes.
Cohesiveness between the offense and defense continued to shine right out of the gates. Following the intermission, Sterling intercepted a pass from Pansini, which quickly led to a goal the other way by Leubecker.
Princeton finally broke its drought 43 seconds later, initiating a back-and-forth third quarter. Mulham scored two more goals for the Tigers, yet those scores were interrupted by Cordingley’s third of the evening — one that came off of a ricochet from sophomore midfielder Shannon Smith’s behind-the-back shot attempt.
With the score at 12-8, Cordingley scored her 50th goal of the season. Junior attacker Victoria Hensh then finally notched the first consecutive score of the quarter, increasing Maryland’s lead to six goals.
Even though Mulham put her fifth goal of the game past Sterling with 14.5 seconds to spare, the writing was on the wall for another valiant road victory for the Terps.
Leubecker continued to provide insurance for the Terps, scoring her fourth and fifth of the night to extend the lead to seven goals. Griffin and Clevenger added to the second-half scoring barrage before May pushed it to a game-high ten-goal lead, which ended up being the final.
Maryland outscored Princeton 10-4 in the second half, allowing them to run away with another decisive victory against a nationally-ranked opponent.
Three things to know
1. Maryland continues to impress on the road. Maryland improved to 6-0 on the road with its victory over Princeton. While Reese’s tenure has been defined by the team’s track record at home, this year’s impressive road resume is a clear indication of a massive shift in maturity. After enduring two peculiar seasons, this group has proven to be more than capable of handling pressure.
2. The offense shook off a tough start. The first quarter ended in a 3-3 tie — a testament to the stingy Princeton defense while also a potential sign of Maryland’s struggles. The slow start didn’t deter the offense, however, as they finished with 19 goals. The off-ball movement was in sync and the one-on-one dodging was explosive in front of a rowdy crowd.
“Just sticking to our principles and things we’ve worked on,” Leubecker said of the team’s turnaround. “Not letting that get us down, not letting anything on the other end really get to us, but continuing to execute and staying disciplined in the things that we’ve been working on.”
3. Aurora Cordingley notched goal No. 50. The Johns Hopkins transfer delivered a three-goal third quarter that clinched her 50th goal of the campaign. Surprisingly, this marks the first season in which the prolific goalscorer from Ontario, Canada, has eclipsed 50 goals. Her previous season-high was 41 in 2019, and with plenty of games left on the schedule, Cordingley can continue to add to the mini-legacy she has built in College Park.
“That just goes to show how amazing my teammates are and how they’ve brought me up this year,” Cordingley said. “I’m able to achieve that literally just because of them.”