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No. 9 Maryland women’s lacrosse charges past Penn State, 13-6

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The Terps’ record improves to 11-1 as Emily Sterling had a career-high 13 saves in the victory.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 9 Maryland women’s lacrosse’s junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling was coming off of her career-high, 12-save performance ahead of Thursday night’s matchup against Penn State.

As she entered the fourth with nine saves, Sterling aimed to continue to make her mark on the contest. And as sophomore defender Sammy Dupcak collected the opening draw, the moment became all too appetizing.

A behind-the-back shot from senior attacker Sydney Wolfington was the first to be denied. After a foul by the Terps’ backline, freshman midfielder Brooke Hoss’ free position attempt was knocked away. Then lastly, a second free position on the possession, this time by junior midfielder Meghan Murray, was snatched up by the midseason All-American.

“It comes down to maturing as a team and keeping our composure,” Sterling said of the sequence. “Just take a deep breath and pull everything together.”

Sterling matched her career-high in saves by making three spectacular saves on the single possession. Later in the quarter, the goalkeeper picked up her 13th and final save of the game, marking a new career-high.

Sterling has broken out in a major way this season. She has limited opponents to single-digit goals all but once across her 12 appearances this season and has amassed 10 saves four times.

Her performance against the Nittany Lions was yet another masterclass, propelling the Terps to a statement victory, 13-6.

“We’ve really tried to emphasize how much work we put in that practice outside of practice,” Sterling said. “I just have confidence in my training at this point.”

Penn State won both meetings last season; a 15-13 victory in Maryland’s season opener —which put head coach Cathy Reese at 0-1 for the first time in her tenure — and a 16-9 road rout. This time around, Maryland did not let Penn State walk away with the win.

The Big Ten foes both missed their opening shot attempts, but quickly bounced back on each’s ensuing possession. Sophomore attacker Eloise Clevenger rewarded Maryland with the early lead before Virginia transfer Taylor Regan locked it up 42 seconds later.

Trailing only the Terps among Big Ten teams in turnovers per game (11.10), the Nittany Lions coughed up four in the first quarter of play. Those giveaways proved costly as Maryland rattled off three consecutive goals.

Junior attacker Kate Sites got the ball rolling, with junior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn hooking her up for the sweet finish. Graduate attacker Aurora Cordingley then padded the lead with a nice up and under from around the back of the net. Junior attacker Victoria Hensh then scored late in the quarter on a free position attempt.

Even as Penn State’s turnovers mounted and Maryland racked up goals, the road team’s defense stepped up in the latter stages of the quarter.

A rare shot clock violation from the Terps highlighted an impressive defensive stretch for the Nittany Lions. Freshman goalkeeper Ashley Bowan was the catalyst, making three saves in the period.

Bowan couldn’t gather her fourth late in the quarter, however, with Hensh scoring on a free position shot just as the rain picked up again. But Regan was able to come back the other way to bring the deficit back to two heading into the second period.

They couldn’t carry that momentum into the next stage of the game, however, as Maryland’s poised approach lit the fuse.

A pair of woman-up goals from Clevenger and freshman midfielder Jordyn Lipkin kicked off the second-quarter barrage.

“I think our offense did a great job of moving the ball and keeping our heads up,” Clevenger said. “When we find that cutter in the middle we try and hit them and capitalize off of that. I think we did a great job of doing that today.”

While Murray interjected 20 seconds after Lipkin’s goal to make it a 6-3 ball game, Maryland’s veteran leaders punched back.

Senior midfielder Grace Griffin scored on a free position goal — the second on two attempts. Cordingley then had a pretty bounce shot along the right side to make it 7-3. Both goals were scored off of turnovers — Penn State’s fifth and eighth of the night — caused by graduate defender Abby Bosco and junior defender Brianna Lamoureux.

Even with Maryland taking its foot off the gas a bit down the stretch, the nation’s leader in save percentage shined yet again.

Sterling made five first-half saves, including three in a span of two minutes. She finished with a career-high 13.

“I thought our timing was really good defensively,” Reese said. “That in turn put their shooters in positions for Emily to make saves.”

The third period saw neither team truly capitalize, but Maryland’s defense dictated the pace, allowing them to maintain its stronghold on the game.

Sterling led the charge as she continued to limit Penn State’s offense. As such, it took 11:46 for the Nittany Lions to score in the third, but that followed a beautiful score via the Cordingley-Clevenger connection earlier in the period.

As good as Sterling was, Bowan was equally impressive in net on the other side. The freshman racked up four in the quarter and 13 on the night, setting a new career-high as well.

With the margin still set at four heading into the fourth quarter, something had to give in the cage. Sterling and Bowan performed strongly upon the fresh start, but it was Bowan’s domino that fell first.

The Cordingley-Leubecker connection took center stage on offense for the Terps this time, with the transfer attacker delivering on her 42nd goal of the season to take a 10-5 lead.

No. 43 soon followed as Cordingley’s two-goal stretch put the final stamps on another definitive victory for the surging Terps.

Three things to know

1. Turnovers proved to be the difference-maker. The two top teams in the Big Ten in turnovers per game squared off in unfavorable conditions. Maryland was able to apply more pressure in that department than its counterpart, causing 11 turnovers and forcing Penn State out of rhythm. Overall, the Nittany Lions committed 16, a new season-high.

“I think we were just ready to play tonight, my biggest challenge was containing our energy in the locker room [during the lightning delay],” Reese said. “This was my freshmen, sophomore and junior’s first win against Penn State, so it’s a big deal for us.”

2. Maryland held the draw control advantage. Maryland has led in the draw control six times this season, but over its last six games, it has led just once (11-9 versus Georgetown). The typical draw control dominance of years past by Kali Hartshorn and Lizzie Colson has fallen by the wayside a bit in 2022, but the offense added some fuel this evening with a plus-7 margin. Ahearn and Bosco led the way with five apiece.

3. It was a perfect day in the clear department. In no small feat, Maryland went a perfect 19-for-19 in clears. It was that type of day for Maryland, as the unorthodox playing field combined with the poor conditions worked in their favor. The Terps were poised when moving the ball from end to end, while also disrupting Penn State’s flow.

“When Tori went out to that was something we talked about and it was a little more difficult for us against Hopkins,” Reese said. “But we’ve made these adjustments and I’m just really proud of our team defensively. How we took our time, we were patient and we got it over the 30 safely every time.”