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No. 1-seed Maryland women’s lacrosse Big Ten championship game preview: No. 3-seed Rutgers

The Terps look to lock up a perfect conference record with their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2018.

Photo Courtesy of Zach Bland/Maryland Terrapins

Maryland women’s lacrosse handled business on Friday in the Big Ten semifinals to advance to its sixth straight conference tournament final.

A 14-6 victory over No. 4-seed Johns Hopkins was highlighted by a seven-point night (two goals, five assists) from graduate attacker and former Blue Jay Aurora Cordingley.

The win was Maryland’s eighth straight, setting up a highly-anticipated rematch against either No. 2-seed Northwestern or No. 3-seed Rutgers on Sunday. Playing in front of its home crowd must’ve paid dividends for the underdogs as Rutgers shocked Northwestern, 13-5, to advance to the Big Ten championship game.

Sunday’s championship game now turns into a road game for the Terps.

Game information

Sunday, May 8, 12 p.m., SHI Stadium, Piscataway, New Jersey

TV: Big Ten Network

Streaming: FOX Sports

What happened last time

The Terps faced a major test in front of its home crowd the only time they squared off against the Scarlet Knights this season. As for much of the year, though, they rose to the occasion.

The then-No. 12 Rutgers didn’t stand a chance after Maryland jumped out to a 4-1 lead by the end of the first quarter. Four different players notched hat tricks for the Terps — Cordingley, junior attackers Hannah Leubecker and Libby May and freshman midfielder Jordyn Lipkin.

For Rutgers, junior midfielder Cassidy Spilis and senior attacker Marin Hartshorn were the only scorers, scoring three goals apiece.

The Scarlet Knights didn’t do themselves any favors by committing 19 turnovers, a trend seen throughout the season for the Big Ten’s worst in that department.

On the flip side, the Terps went 22-for-23 in clears. It was a classic case of protecting the ball leading to opportunities, and it allowed Maryland to coast to a 16-6 victory.

What’s happened since

Both teams have trended in the right direction over the past month and a half. Since their meeting on March 20, the Terps and Scarlet Knights have combined for just three losses.

Rutgers lost twice — succumbing to an overtime loss against Arizona State before dropping a second consecutive match to Northwestern, 21-13. But it was all on the upswing from there, however, as Rutgers won four straight to end the regular season before pulling off the surprise upset over the high-octane Wildcats offense.

Maryland has been equally as impressive, navigating a tough Big Ten slate without dropping a game. Other than a loss to James Madison a week following its win against Rutgers, Maryland has been untouchable.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland maintain its draw control numbers from the semis? It was a stellar night on the draw against the conference’s worst on a per game basis. The Terps held a plus-10 draw control margin in the Big Ten semifinals, using a nine-draw streak in the first half to dominate Johns Hopkins. In the championship game, the Big Ten’s fourth best draw control team will take the field, presenting a significant uptick in competition.

Rutgers held a 17-9 advantage in the regular season meeting thanks to the relentless effort from Spilis and senior defender Meghan Ball, who both rank top-10 in the conference. Hartshorn added four of her own, presenting a three-headed dragon that will certainly bring some heat to the trio of graduate defender Abby Bosco, sophomore midfielder Shannon Smith and junior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn.

2. Will Emily Sterling recover from a tough Big Ten championship game last year? To say the junior goalkeeper has been a different player this season would be an understatement. Sterling has been nothing short of dominant in cage for the Terps this season, but last year in the Big Ten championship game she struggled against a tremendous offense. She allowed 16 goals and made just five saves. Rutgers is less of a threat on the offensive end, but Sterling should certainly be looking to avenge her lackluster outing last year.

3. More hardware for the resilient Terps? The past few years have been a rollercoaster ride for the juniors and seniors. The seniors experienced the highest of the highs in 2019 before going through three peculiar seasons. The juniors have only known the pandemic-era of lacrosse, with this current season being their first true season since coming to College Park. But through all the hardships and uncertainties, prevailing on Sunday will culminate a return to glory for the historic Maryland women’s lacrosse program.