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No. 8 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. No. 2 Northwestern preview

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Maryland looks to exact revenge on Northwestern and stake its claim atop the Big Ten.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland women’s lacrosse endured a difficult 2021 season that featured three losses to a Northwestern team that made it to the Final Four.

Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the Terps had lost just once to its Big Ten counterpart prior to last season. The season sweep marked a shift in the conference’s totem pole, but this year has seen a big resurgence from head coach Cathy Reese’s squad.

To little surprise, Maryland has re-emerged as a perennial powerhouse after a down year. Its 13-1 record has been aided by a tremendous five-game win streak, with four of the five victories coming on the road.

Saturday’s marquee matchup will shift back to College Park — an environment that the Wildcats haven’t experienced since 2019 — and will mark the final home game of the season for the Terps.

“We’re just excited to play somebody that’s as good as Northwestern,” Reese said. “They’re going to push us all over the field. They’re a real well-rounded team and it’s just a great challenge at this point in the year to just see where things are.”

The top two teams in the Big Ten will hit the field at 11:30 a.m. and it will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

Northwestern Wildcats (13-2, 5-0 Big Ten)

2021 record: 15-1 (11-0 Big Ten)

Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is coming off her 12th appearance in the Final Four since taking over the program in 2002. Northwestern has risen to national prominence under Amonte Hiller and that trend continued with a 15-1 record last season. During her tenure, she has bolstered five Tewaaraton winners and 58 IWLCA All-Americans.

Players to know

Graduate attacker Lauren Gilbert, No. 1 — Last year’s Robin to Izzy Scane has now become the Batman for Northwestern’s high-octane offense. Gilbert paces the Wildcats with 62 goals after coming off a 66-goal season, notching a career-high eight goals on April 7 against Rutgers. She is also the second-leading assister on the team behind junior attacker Erin Coykendall.

Senior midfielder Jill Girardi, No. 15 — Girardi has shifted into Gilbert’s role from last season as not just the second in command on offense, but as the leader on the draw. Her steady rise to stardom has been fulfilled this season as the fourth-year midfielder has accumulated 142 draw controls, which is second in the country behind Duke senior Maddie Jenner.

Senior goalkeeper Madison Doucette, No. 99 — Doucette has been the victim of a brutal schedule, but the senior stud in cage has been key to Northwestern’s prominence. She currently boasts a 11.55 goals allowed average and .412 save percentage. The veteran presents a compelling foil to the surging junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling.

Strength

Scoring offense. Northwestern, despite all the tests on its schedule, maintains a top-10 offense nationally. The team averages 16.57 goals per game, a particularly impressive feat considering the loss of 98-goal scorer Scane. Gilbert has led the charge, with Girardi and Coykendall following up with 37 and 36 goals, respectively. The rest of the roster rounds out seven more double-digit scorers.

“Straight up, Northwestern is a tough team to defend,” Reese said. “They’re a team that’s more packed in. Everyone’s dangerous. They use each other well, they work off of each other well. I think the key to our success is being able to somehow limit the opportunities that we’re giving them.”

Weakness

Turnover margin. Despite the record and level of success, this hasn’t been the most polished Northwestern team of late. The team’s overall turnover margin is not up to the program’s standards. The Wildcats average 15.06 turnovers per game and cause the least amount of turnovers per game in the Big Ten (7.69).

Three things to watch

1. How much has Maryland truly grown this season? Maryland has persevered this season to prove that last year was an outlier. From end-to-end, the roster has shown tremendous growth and maturity. But now the real test comes. How will Maryland fare against the preseason pick to win the Big Ten after being bested thrice last season?

“Last year they gave us some really good competition,” junior attacker Libby May said. “Our team is obviously very new, we have a bunch of new people. Our chemistry is great and we’re really confident going into this weekend.”

2. Can Maryland win the draw. Keeping Northwestern out of its offensive set pieces will be crucial to victory. The Terps have been a bit shaky in that department this season, but they are on a nice stretch thanks to the improved play of junior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn and Tewaaraton finalist Abby Bosco. The Wildcats lead the Big Ten in draw controls per game by a hefty margin, so either winning the battle or at least cutting the margin will be pivotal.

3. Big Ten Tournament implications. Maryland still has one more game on its slate before the conference tournament, but a win over the Wildcats will go a long way in ensuring the No. 1 seed. Northwestern can lock up the top spot with a victory over the Terps, but a loss will open the door for Maryland. If the Terps win and then defeat a Michigan team they beat twice last season on April 30, they will be the top seed.

“We’ve played in every scenario this year and I think that’s gonna really help us in the long run, especially against the number two team in the country,” graduate attacker Aurora Cordingley said.