Heading into its rematch against Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, No. 2-seed Maryland women’s lacrosse faced the tall task of slowing down senior attacker Maddie Jenner and the Blue Devil draw control unit.
In Duke’s first round game against Johns Hopkins on Friday, Jenner grabbed the NCAA single-season record in draw controls previously held by Marist’s Hailey Wagner. Her six-foot-two frame and excellent poise led to 229 draw controls across 19 games this season, helping the Blue Devils notch a nation-leading 19.05 draw controls per game and second-best .630 draw control percentage.
The trio of junior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn, sophomore midfielder Shannon Smith and graduate defender Abby Bosco had their hands full with this difficult matchup. But it was heart that prevailed over height.
Ahearn led the way with nine draws, followed by four from Smith and two from Bosco. All the while, Jenner collected just one in the first half, finishing with four — a season low.
“[We tried to] push the ball away from her[Jenner],” Ahearn said. “It wasn’t so much to get the ball low because the ball has to go over our heads, but it was to get the ball out of the circle if necessary.”
Head coach Kerstin Kimel added her perspective, saying, “Maddie was having a hard time getting any kind of feel on the ball in her stick for whatever reason. We just weren’t our typical selves on the circle.”
Maryland used its draw control success to roll past Duke, 19-6, on Sunday afternoon in College Park to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals. The Terps will face No. 7-seed Florida on Thursday for a chance to book their ticket to the Final Four.
The lopsided draw control advantage was mainly obtained by a dominant second quarter run in which the Blue Devils failed to possess the ball for nearly nine minutes of game time.
Maryland held a 19-2 shot advantage and 11-1 draw control lead in the second period.
For a team that has faced some question marks about its consistency on the draw circle all season, Maryland left the field without a shred of doubt over its ability to adjust. The Terps maintained a running clock for the entire second half as they exacted revenge over the Blue Devils, the opponent that knocked Maryland out of the tournament last season in the second round.
“We’ve had our ups and downs on the draw and this has been something the last couple games where we’ve really seen our draw group dialed in,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “Duke has dominated with the draw all season long, so for us to make that area competitive was crucial to our success today.”
Maryland’s grittiness shined in the opening minutes as the team executed across the board.
On offense, sophomore attacker Eloise Clevenger kicked things off with two straight goals — the first was unassisted followed by a link up with graduate attacker Aurora Cordingley, the duo’s 16th connection of the season.
Graduate midfielder Grace Griffin and junior attacker Libby May then bounced in goals three and four, respectively. Those both came off remarkable defensive sequences by the Terps, allowing for a quick 4-0 start.
Junior goalkeeper Emily Sterling held strong in the cage, making two saves that segued into production on the offensive end. The second stop came at the end of the shot clock as Bosco played tremendous one-on-one defense to force the issue.
The main component of Maryland’s fast start came on the draw. Facing off against the imposing Jenner, the Terps secured three of the first four draws controls. Despite the early success, however, Maryland’s advantage began to level out.
As Duke closed the gap on the draw, it narrowed the deficit by rattling off three straight goals over one minute and 41 seconds — all off draws. Sophomore attacker Katie DeSimone, who scored four goals in last year’s NCAA Tournament meeting, got on the board along with graduate attacker Catriona Barry and sophomore midfielder Katie Keller.
Sensing the danger of a Duke overhaul, May was able to snatch back the momentum. She put on a couple moves against her defender before executing a half-spin, freeing up a shot on goal that bounced into the bottom left corner of the net.
That momentum swing continued into the second quarter as Smith scored 46 seconds after the intermission to double-up the Blue Devils. But Maryland’s two-goal spurt soon transitioned into a back-and-forth affair.
The two sides traded goals through the opening five minutes of the period. Once the clock broke the 10-minute mark, however, the Terps were able to go on an eight-goal run that increased their lead to 10 by the break.
It was all fueled by the draw controls as Maryland put the Duke offense out of rhythm and the defense on its heels. Eight straight draw controls led to seven of its goals as the Blue Devils failed to possess the ball over a near nine-minute period.
“We take a lot of time preparing for the draw,” Ahearn said. “I have the draw girls that are on the circle with me sit in a room and we go over what we want our game plan to be and what we’re going to focus on. I think we just executed that perfectly.”
It was an absolute clinic for the Terps across the final 10 minutes of the second quarter. A last-second goal from May initiated a running clock just ahead of the break, casting extreme doubt on Duke’s comeback chances.
A ninth straight draw led to a ninth straight goal to start the second half. Griffin was the one to score as Maryland continued to distance itself from the lower-seeded Blue Devils. Ahearn then made it 10-straight, further cementing her profound impact on the afternoon result.
Duke ended its drought on a free position shot with 2:25 remaining in the third quarter, but the damage was been irreparable. Maryland finished with a 37-13 shot advantage as it earned its way into the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Three things to know
1. Maryland threw Duke off rhythm. Maryland showed no mercy in today’s postseason match as they overpowered the Blue Devils in every sense. The biggest factor to Maryland’s success was its ability to gain possession after possession via the draw and throw Duke off kilter. The defense was constantly on its heels, and the offense couldn’t even establish itself in the attacking third due to the lack of possession time. This led to an extremely lopsided shot comparison in Maryland’s favor.
“To give up 13 shots total ... is just a huge credit to our defense and the game plan that Lauri Kenis has put together down there and then the execution by our team,” Reese said.
2. Stout competition has been no match. The return to a normal slate of games has been crucial to Reese’s team’s development this season. Having the opportunity to play against multiple different styles has fortified this Maryland team. There is no fear with this team and it shined against Jenner and the rest of Duke’s fast pace offense. Playing against nine different tournament teams this season has only pushed the envelope as Maryland seeks a trip to Baltimore.
“We’ve seen a lot of different defensive sets and so the way that our offense was able to react and able to execute what we needed to do was awesome today,” Reese said.
3. Florida awaits. With the victory, Maryland advances to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament where it will match up against No. 7-seed Florida. The Gators defeated Jacksonville, 15-10, in Gainesville, but they will need to travel to College Park for Thursday’s game. The winner will advance to the Final Four in Baltimore over Memorial Day weekend.
Maryland and Florida met earlier this season on Feb. 26 when the Terps defeated the Gators, 18-8, for its third win of the year.