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No. 8 Maryland women’s lacrosse defeats No. 2 Northwestern, 15-9, clinches share of Big Ten regular season title

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The Terps can win the regular season crown outright against Michigan next weekend.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

A down 2021 season for Maryland women’s lacrosse featured a season sweep at the hands of Northwestern. The two perennial powerhouses battled three times over the course of the season, with Maryland being outmatched in all three meetings.

Players like junior attacker Libby May remembered the pain and reversed it on Saturday.

May and the Terps possessed more hunger than the Wildcats, and it showed at the tail end of the first half.

Out of their timeout, a miscue from junior attacker Hannah Gillespie set Maryland up with a two-on-one fast break opportunity. It was junior attackers Hannah Leubecker and May that had nothing but green ahead of them as senior goalkeeper Madison Doucette retreated.

May received the dump off from Leubecker to punctuate a terrific first half performance by the Terps. It was just a prelude to more dominance, however, as Maryland controlled the second half en route to a 15-9 victory in College Park on Saturday afternoon.

It was May’s day as she scored a career-high seven goals in a huge revenge game over the Wildcats. With the gutsy victory, Maryland not only clinched the top overall seed in the Big Ten Tournament, but proved it belongs in the national title picture.

“We’re just building our experience more and more and I’m just so proud of our whole team,” May said. “To be able to come away with a win today and show what the 2022 Terps can do was just really exciting.”

One of the greatest rivalries in collegiate lacrosse kicked off in front of a packed crowd at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. Despite the sea of red in the stands, Maryland had a less than ideal start.

After graduate defender Abby Bosco corralled the opening draw control, sophomore attacker Eloise Clevenger committed an unforced turnover. The giveaway initiated a relentless Northwestern attack that forced in four shots against the Terps.

However, junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling came to play Saturday. She stifled the Wildcats on all four attempts, leading to a goal the other way from Leubecker.

As the speedy junior fell to the ground following an aggressive dodge to the cage, Leubecker flicked Maryland’s first shot attempt past Doucette to open up the scoring.

Just over a minute later, sophomore midfielder Shannon Smith doubled Maryland’s early lead with a heavily contested left-handed shot. But Northwestern’s offense awoke after collecting its first draw of the afternoon, with graduate attacker Lauren Gilbert inflicting the first blow to Sterling and the defense.

Maryland remained unfazed as Sterling notched her fifth save of the day against a more pursuant Northwestern attack. It led to a third goal for the Terps, fired in by May off a great dump off from Smith.

However, the Wildcats were not going to be deterred much further. Two consecutive draw controls skewed the shot advantage in their favor. As a result, the road team mustered two goals to tie the game at three a piece.

Northwestern had forced Maryland into uncomfortable defensive rotations. The fast approach put the reeling Terps into vulnerable positioning, but even with the first-quarter shot disadvantage, a late pick and roll-esque goal from May, courtesy of Smith, put Maryland in front after 15 minutes of play.

That goal would be just the start of a crucial stretch by the Terps. They dictated the tempo of the second quarter by keeping Northwestern’s offense at bay — through both solid defense and persistent offense.

It was a collaborative effort as six draw controls kept Northwestern out of the attacking third, and Sterling patched up the occasional holes with an exhibition in net. The nation’s leader in save percentage finished the first half with an astonishing 10 saves.

On offense, two dodges down the left lane from sophomore attacker Victoria Hensh and junior attacker Kate Sites rewarded Maryland with a 6-3 lead. A hard cut from graduate midfielder Grace Griffin then extended the run to four goals.

Sophomore midfielder Kendall Halpern answered on yet another rapid approach by the Northwestern offense, but the good times continued to roll on for the Terps as they finished the quarter on another 3-1 scoring run.

Leubecker scored once and May scored twice to double the Wildcats goals at the break with the Terps leading 10-5.

“Cathy has been really teaching us the winning mindset, stepping out with a sense of confidence and swagger,” May said. “When we step out there together and play hard with poise and determination, nothing can stop us.”

Out of the intermission, Maryland continued to pressure Doucette. After Gilbert and the Wildcats came up empty on the offensive end, the Terps used the full 90-second shot clock to score goal number 11.

After initially being waved off, the referee crew confirmed Griffin’s buzzer-beating goal.

That booming start put the Wildcats in a deeper hole, making its six-goal deficit increasingly harder to climb out of as the turnovers continued to mount.

Six turnovers by Northwestern — five of which were forced — led to a near-shutout in the quarter. Graduate midfielder Jill Girardi scored with 2.8 seconds to spare, but the damage had been done as the Terps surged ahead by eight goals.

“One thing that we’ve really highlighted on as a defense this entire year is just our communication and trust in each other,” Sterling said. “When you know that the person next to you has your back no matter what it just brings your play to a whole other level.”

May continued her stellar afternoon prior to Northwestern’s goal, firing in two straight goals to make it 13-5. Clevenger then padded the lead with a fifth straight goal for the Terps — one that put the differential at an eye-popping nine goals.

Frustration mounted for head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and the Wildcats as they failed to find the back of the net until the waning seconds of the third quarter. Several calls were made at the dismay of the coaching staff, with a disallowed goal highlighting a difficult 15 minutes.

Girardi did her best to bring the Wildcats back into this one, but it was too little too late. Her three goals were overshadowed by a dominant display on both ends from the Terps.

Sterling anchored the defense with a new career-high of 16 saves. The rest of the defense handled itself well by forcing 11 turnovers, a huge factor in Saturday’s result as Maryland clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship with the win.

“This is just the beginning,” Sterling said. “Enjoy this feeling, but tomorrow we have another game to prepare for and then we have two tournaments that we have our eyes on. So game-by-game, day-by-day.”

Three things to know

1. Turnovers played a pivotal role. Going up against the second-ranked offense in the country, Maryland had to do anything it could to limit the chances by the opposition. Northwestern charged ahead with its prowess on the draw circle (10-1 second half advantage, 17-11 full game), but Maryland controlled the tempo with its fierceness re-defending. Maryland caused 11 turnovers as the Wildcats’s 15 total changed the flow of the game.

“We were really disciplined on the defensive end,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “Re-defending hard and slowing the ball down so that we can come up with some opportunities. That’s a huge momentum change.”

2. Maryland possessed an extra gear. Whether it was hustling for a loose ball or executing on smooth offensive set pieces, Maryland clearly had the bigger dog in the fight. After losing to Northwestern three times last season, the Terps made it a mission to exact its revenge and earn the top overall seed in the Big Ten Tournament in the process. Maryland can clinch the outright Big Ten title with a victory at No. 20 Michigan next Saturday.

“They’ve just gone through so many different challenges and had to handle a lot of adversity,” Reese said. “To really come out and execute and play fearless is something I’m just really proud of.”

3. Northwestern’s threats were completely neutralized. Averaging 16.87 goals per game this year, the Wildcats were shutdown for the majority of the contest. Aside from a trio of goals by Girardi to end the game, the usual suspects on Northwestern’s offense were absent today. Gilbert went 1-for-9, while junior attacker Erin Coykendall couldn’t find a goal until garbage time. Overall, the offense shot 23.7%.