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No. 9 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. Penn State preview

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The Terps will look to capture their third straight win.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

The return to Big Ten play went very smoothly for No. 9 Maryland women’s lacrosse, cruising to a 17-6 victory over then-No. 20 Johns Hopkins with another masterful performance from the defense.

Maryland entered halftime with an 8-5 lead, but that slim margin turned into a blowout in short order. Junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling allowed just one goal in the entire second half, adding to her and the defense’s continued success on the season.

Since its first loss of the year to James Madison, the Terps have allowed just nine goals across two games. Next up on Maryland’s slate is the team that handed it its first loss in 2021.

Penn State comes to town for a Thursday night showdown. Both teams are trending in opposite directions as the Nittany Lions have dropped three straight, including two of which being conference matchups.

“Penn State goes hard and they showed that last season,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We need to make sure that defensively we’re functioning as a total unit so we’re not leaving any of our teammates out to dry.”

The Terps will be looking to extend its perfect start to conference play with a third win. The game can be watched on the Big Ten Network at 6:30 p.m.

Penn State Nittany Lions (5-5, 0-2 Big Ten)

2021 record: 4-9, 4-8 Big Ten

Head coach Missy Doherty is in the midst of her 12th season with Penn State. She has guided the program to seven NCAA Tournament appearances, including back-to-back Final Four berths in 2016 and 2017. Prior to those two seasons, Doherty notched Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, compiling a 16-5 record. Penn State had just four wins last season, however, two of those came against Maryland as the Nittany Lions swept the season series.

Penn State is currently on a three-game losing streak after winning three in a row including a victory over then-No. 21 James Madison on March 9.

Players to know

Sophomore midfielder Kristin O’Neill (No. 19) — As a freshman, O’Neill scored seven goals against Maryland en route to two victories. While the two top scorers ahead of the sophomore are now gone, O’Neill will be tasked with leading the offense to another victory against the Terps. This season, the preseason player to watch has been a stud across the board, compiling 27 goals, seven assists, 13 ground balls, 16 caused turnovers and 24 draw controls.

Graduate attacker Taylor Regan (No. 10) — After notching 47 career appearances with the Virginia Cavaliers, Regan took her talents to central Pennsylvania. Her 65 points aren’t eye-popping, but take into consideration the COVID-19 years, a minor role in her first year and an injury in her second, and Regan has the makings of a phenomenal attacker in the Big Ten. She is already knocking on the door of her previous career-high in goals (24) with 19 this season.

Sophomore defender Sammy Dupcak (No. 2) — The former high school All-American made her presence known last season over 12 starts. That experience has since nearly doubled and Dupcak has already established herself as one of the premier defenders in the Big Ten. She is tied for second on the team in caused turnovers, but the sophomore has produced most in the ground ball department, averaging the third-most in the conference (2.30).

Strength

Limiting turnovers. Despite losing its top players on the attack from last season, Penn State bolsters a poised midfield that commits the second least turnovers per game in the Big Ten (11.10), right behind Maryland. O’Neill is joined by senior Mary Muldoon, junior Meghan Murray and sophomores Kayla Abernathy, Gretchen Gilmore, and Cam Evitts.

Weakness

Goaltending. It will be a tale of two seasons for this matchup in goal, as Penn State has significantly struggled to find answers in the cage. With Taylor Suplee having transferred to High Point, the Nittany Lions have had to deploy freshman Ashley Bowan (eight starts) and sophomore Cayden Jarvis (two starts). The two underclassmen have combined for a conference-worst save per game mark (6.80) and save percentage (.382).

Three things to watch

1. Can Emily Sterling continue to build on her strong season? The midseason All-American has enjoyed a tremendous junior season to this point. Across 10 starts, Sterling leads the nation in save percentage (.544) and has allowed single-digit goals in all but one of her appearances, which spans over 545 minutes of play. Since giving up 20 over two games, Sterling has limited opponents to nine goals over the same length. Can she keep up her torrid pace?

“It all comes down to our defense,” Sterling said. “We talk about what types of shots we want to give up — the low angle ones where the shooters hands are jammed up. Our defense being able to continuously force those type of shots so I’m looking at a pretty easy ball to save is what makes my job so much easier.”

2. Will Maryland get its revenge? Penn State surprisingly swept the season series last year after winning the previous 17 meetings. The defense struggled in both games last season, giving up a combined 31 goals on 63 shots. While Penn State has lost some firepower during the offseason, can it win a third in a row against one of the most prolific programs?

“When we trust each other we all play at our best,” graduate midfielder Grace Griffin said.

3. Can Maryland get Penn State out of rhythm? This game will be decided on whether or not the Terps can limit Penn State’s play in the midfield to a pedestrian level. The two teams are tops in the Big Ten with the fewest turnovers per game average. But Maryland’s edge has been in its differential of clears. A 91 percent conversion rate compares to its opponent’s 74.3 percent. Penn State has the best clear rate in the Big Ten (92.9), however, so forcing the Nittany Lions into mistakes from defense to offense could be critical.

“We’ve done a good job at re-defending and even if teams are successful at clearing we’re hoping to take enough time off the shot clock,” Reese said. “We want to make it more than just causing turnovers, we want to make them take as long as possible to get it over.”