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No. 4 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. No. 21 Michigan preview

The Terps look to lock up an outright regular season title.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

No. 4 Maryland women’s lacrosse exacted revenge against then-No. 2 Northwestern in a major way in its last outing. By extending head coach Cathy Reese’s undefeated conference home record with a 15-9 victory, the Terps secured not only a share of the Big Ten regular season title, but the top overall seed in the Big Ten Tournament next weekend.

The Terps had lost to Northwestern three times last season. But this win marked a return to glory for the program as they returned to the top of the Big Ten for the first time since 2019. It also became a defining moment for a large portion of the roster that has had to grow up fast throughout the pandemic.

“I feel like our leadership is multidimensional in that it’s not just one person or small group of people,” graduate midfielder Grace Griffin said. “I feel like everyone’s a leader in their own right and we have leaders on the defensive end, in the midfield and on the offensive side. Everyone feels they have the ability to speak up, share what they know and help one another out.”

Now, Maryland will have to shift focus to its regular season finale in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The No. 21 Wolverines await as the Terps look to secure sole possession of the Big Ten regular season title.

“I’m always big on celebrating our successes no matter how big or small they are,” Reese said. “They did a great job on Saturday in coming away with that win against an awesome, really strong Northwestern team. But we need to reset and refocus.”

The game will be broadcast on ESPNU this Saturday at noon.

Michigan Wolverines (10-5, 2-3 Big Ten)

Head coach Hannah Nielsen is the second coach in Michigan women’s lacrosse history and is in her fifth year with the team. After dominating the sport from 2006 to 2009 at Northwestern — winning four national championships and two Tewaaraton awards — Nielsen transitioned to coaching. Prior to taking over the Wolverine program, she made stops as an assistant coach at Penn State, Towson, Colorado and her alma mater.

Players to know

Graduate goalkeeper Arielle Weismann, No. 26 — One of the 25 finalists for the Tewaaraton award, Weismann’s solid work in cage has made Michigan one of the top defensive teams in the country. An excellent foil to Maryland junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling, Weismann ranks third nationally in save percentage (.522) and second — behind only Sterling — in goals allowed average (8.10).

Graduate attacker Caitlin Muir, No. 1 — Muir is the main facilitator on offense for the Wolverines as she’s tied for the lead in team points (29) with two others players (senior attacher Kaley Thompson and senior defender Kaitlyn Mead). While she may be lacking in goals compared to the other two, Muir makes up for it in the passing game. She paces the Wolverines with 15 assists on the year. Going along with her 14 goals, the veteran leader has been instrumental to Michigan’s success.

Senior midfielder Kaitlyn Mead, No. 30 — While Thompson leads the team in goals scored, Mead ranks second on the team with 22, while also supplying a steady presence on the draw. Her 57 draw controls puts her at eighth in the Big Ten. She’s another veteran presence that has helped form a consistent Michigan squad after a down year last season.

Strength

Defense. The Wolverines hang their hats on their defensive prowess. They rank ninth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing a minuscule 8.53 goals per game. Weismann is the anchor for a defense that forces 8.20 turnovers a game. Four of its starters on defense (sophomore Maddie Burns, graduate Katherine Galzerano, freshman Maya Rutherford and senior Morgan Whitaker) haven’t missed a game this year. As such, the chemistry on Michigan’s backline has been stellar, even with a wide array of experience levels.

Weakness

Slow starts. Over its last five games — a 1-4 stretch— Michigan has been outscored by six goals overall. After a strong start to the season for the Wolverines, it appears they have hit a stonewall. For an offense that has struggled to support its defense at times this season, getting off to slow starts has become common — a potential problem with the high octane Terps coming to town.

Three things to watch

1. Battle of Tewaaraton goalkeepers. The run that Sterling has been on for the Terps has been remarkable. The junior had a quiet first two seasons in College Park, albeit abbreviated seasons. But she emerged as a national name with her Division I leading save percentage. Her final start of the regular season comes opposite of an equally powerful Wiesmann. It’ll be a battle worth watching despite the two never crossing paths on the field.

2. Can Aurora Cordingley reach the century mark? It’s hard to imagine that graduate attacker Aurora Cordingley is eight points away from reaching 100 points. Cordingley has surpassed eight points four times this year, including two double-digit efforts prior to conference play. With one game left on the regular season slate, Cordingley will be gunning for an accolade achieved by just five players in the storied program’s history.

“Having [her] level of experience on the field with the rest of the kids who are coming off of the COVID shut down has just been crucial to our development as an offense this season,” Reese said. “She’s earned the title of captain as we’ve gone through the year. The team has really just embraced her leadership and, and it’s been huge to our overall success.”

3. Who will finish the year with the most connections? It’s been an interesting stat to keep track of considering the wealth of players involved in scoring plays this year. Thirteen different players have scored goals this season and 12 have produced assists. This has created 34 different combinations of scorers

“I think our off-ball movement has been great and against Northwestern we had a lot of assisted goals,” sophomore attacker Eloise Clevenger said. “Just keeping our head up, handling the pressure inside and finishing.”

Currently, it’s a two-way tie for first, with Cordingley a part of both tandems. Clevenger and Cordingley have connected 15 times this season and have been at the top the list for an extended time. However, junior attacker Libby May and Cordingley are making a late push for the top spot.