It had been three months since Maryland women’s lacrosse avenged a historic 2020 defeat to Florida, and the physical, emotional play was on full display from the onset in Thursday’s NCAA Quarterfinal matchup. Despite a heavily contested first half, Maryland was able to come alive in the second half behind junior attacker Libby May’s five goals to advance to the Final Four for the 12th time in the past 13 tournaments.
The No. 2-seed Terps closed out an 18-5 blowout victory over the seventh-seeded Gators, 18-5. Head coach Cathy Reese will bring her squad to Baltimore on Memorial Day Weekend in search of her sixth national championship at the school.
Reese discussed how glad she was to see her young team advance to live another day.
“I’m just so proud. Like you just sit there and they haven’t, most of our team hasn’t even competed in this round,” Reese said. “...This was one of our goals and we get another week together.”
Sophomore attacker Victoria Hensh got the Terps going early with a clinical tally early in the game, only to be matched by Florida’s second leading goal scorer Emma Lopinto a minute later.
Back and forth action followed for much of the first quarter, with both teams giving each other little space in the attacking areas. Tensions were built early and often, with both benches pleading for yellow cards throughout the first few possessions.
It wasn’t until a yellow card was assessed to Florida midfielder Emily Heller that Maryland had the time and space it needed to draw back ahead with a goal from All-American Aurora Cordingley.
An unsuspecting strike from Florida’s main sniper Danielle Pavinelli whistled past Sterling with just over three minutes in the quarter.
It looked like the visitors were about to take the lead, but goalkeeper Emily Sterling showed why she’s one of the nation’s best with a beauty of a stick save. And on the following possession, it was Cordingley again, with her 65th of the season, to make the score 3-2 in favor of the Terps.
May started the second period with her first goal to make it 4-2, but she wasn’t the talk of the opening minutes of the period.
That belongs to Emily Sterling, who made three early spectacular saves to give the Terps possession and chances to go the other way. Stopping five of Florida’s first seven shots, the nation’s leader in save percentage was making a case for her longshot Tewaaraton argument.
Being outshot and surprisingly dominated on draw controls, Reese called her first timeout early in the second quarter.
Maryland was able to sustain some long pressure from the visitors following the timeout, and Hensh was able to capitalize off a free-position and knock in the short shot to make the score 5-2.
Florida cut its deficit to two courtesy of an Emily Heller strike, but shortly after, May found herself in a prime scoring position. May made no mistake, bringing the lead back to three.
“I think in the first quarter, a little bit into the second we were a little hesitant, and no we just focused on playing us and stepping out there with confidence and just battling,” May said. “Obviously the outcome takes care of itself.”
The second half started just like the first, with the Terps striking in the first minute. This one came from Hannah Leubecker, who hit two posts in the opening half.
Thirty seconds later, following a clean draw control – the Terps’ sixth consecutive at that point – Leubecker struck again, giving Maryland an 8-3 lead.
When it looked like Maryland might be pulling away with it, a yellow card by Aiden Peduzzi gave the Gators a woman-up advantage and sophomore Ashley Gonzalez took advantage, wiring one home to stop the bleeding and make it an 8-4 game.
Florida had a prime chance to keep the pressure on following a missed high stick, but graduate defender Abby Bosco made one of the plays of the game to take back possession and fire it down the other end, where May eventually slotted her 59th tally of the year.
Hensh would then net her hat trick at the net off a second chance effort to extend Maryland’s lead to six with 7:37 remaining in the quarter.
May netted her fourth goal of the game 90 seconds later, and Cordingley followed that up just seconds later with her hat trick.
May’s fifth and Leubecker’s hat trick came in quick succession, bringing the Terps’ lead to 10 goals headed into the final frame.
Leubecker, who hit everything but the back of the net in the first 30 minutes, netted all three of her goals in the third quarter.
Following the Terps’ third-quarter outburst, in which they outscored Florida 8-1, the running clock was initiated to start the final 15 minutes.
The fourth quarter was par for the course as Maryland sustained its massive advantage. Reese relieved Sterling of her duties halfway through the quarter and was able to get senior backup goalie Maddie McSally some tournament minutes.
“I remember after we won the Big Ten regular season and Grace [Griffin] was like okay, enjoy this feeling, but tomorrow we get right back to work,” Sterling said. “I think that’s the mindset. We’re proud of ourselves for as far as we’ve came, but we know there’s still work to do.”
Maryland’s dominance over the sport continues, and it hopes to solidify it with a 15th NCAA title.
Three things to know
1. Libby May had her best game of the season in the perfect spot. May was one of the few bright spots for the Terps in the first half, with her two goals at that point nearly equaling Florida’s three first-half goals. With the game still in doubt to start the second, she was the catalyst of a sudden 8-1 run that included a hat trick in under six minutes. Her five total goals, which led all players, are the biggest reason the Terps are back in the Final Four.
2. A tremendous second-half turnaround put this game out of reach before the fourth quarter even started. The Terps did not play to their standards in the first half. Losing the draw control battle and just edging the Gators in shots on goals, Reese was forced to take a frantic timeout early in the second quarter, and there was concern all over the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex. Things steadied out for Maryland after the timeout, being able to go up three into the break, but they were not optimal by any means.
Forcing Emily Sterling to be the best player on the field, though, was something the second half did not need. A new team came out in the second half. A team that looked like the next 30 minutes were the biggest of the season. From beginning to end, the second half was as lopsided as they come, with Leubecker and May combining for six goals to lead the way.
3. Looking ahead to Maryland’s Final Four matchup. Cathy Reese’s crew will take on the winner of today’s 2:30 p.m. matchup between Loyola Maryland and Boston College in Baltimore on May 27th. The sixth and third seeds, respectively, have four combined losses on the season and would each provide a tough test for the Terps. Maryland defeated Boston College in the 2019 national championship, the last meeting between the two programs. Loyola’s head coach, Jen Adams, is a former Terp herself, and she served as an assistant coach under Reese during the 2007 and 2008 campaigns.