In the fourth quarter, No. 6 Maryland women’s lacrosse needed a spark against No. 7 Florida. The game was back-and-forth, and Maryland had just come off a beautiful defensive stand with about 40 seconds left to play.
Following a timeout by head coach Cathy Reese, Maryland worked the ball around the perimeter until the offense found attacker Victoria Hensh about 20 yards away from the goal. She took matters into her own hands, attacking the defender head on and making a subtle dodge before firing a laser into the corner of the net to take the lead with just 17 seconds left.
“Victoria was hot at that point and found some great looks, and so we kind of let the play play itself out and she came away with a huge goal there,” head coach Cathy Reese said.
The score capped off an impressive performance with a 14-13 victory. Maryland improves to 3-1 on the season.
Maryland started things off with a bang, winning the opening draw control and striking first about 15 seconds in. A quick cut by senior attacker Libby May into open space was all it took, and junior attacker Eloise Clevenger took advantage, using her deft passing abilities to find her.
“I enjoy being able to work on the crease and I think our offense just does a great job all around,” Clevenger said. “(They) make it easier for me to be able to feed it in or give space to allow me to drive.”
Florida soon struck back however, winning the next draw control and forcing a free position shot, where it was able to capitalize.
Maryland’s scrappy nature allowed it to get a woman-up opportunity following the next draw, drawing a flag. The offense did not disappoint, as Shannon Smith fired a bullet past All-American goalkeeper Sarah Reznick from beyond the eight-meter arc.
As the first quarter went mostly back and forth, there were a few themes to note. First, Maryland was not afraid to let shots fly from a myriad of places. Not only was it nearly perfect on free position opportunities (4-for-5), but it capitalized on cuts, catch-and-shoot chances and even some longer conversions.
“I think it was just us being able to finish and put the ball in the back of the net,” Clevenger said. “We had a lot of shots and the goalie make great saves. But as attackers, it’s our job to fake and find the net.”
Additionally, it was easy to sense that the two teams played with exceptional pace. In a number of different instances, both squads looked to attack straight off draw controls. Interestingly enough, when the teams tried to slow things down and work their offenses, the defenses almost always won that battle.
In the second quarter, Libby May proved why she may just be the Terps’ best offensive weapon. Her skills are exceptional for an attacker. Early in quarter two, she found the soft spot in the defense and utilized her hand-switching ability to pot her fourth of the day.
Maryland also began switching its strategy with a four-goal lead. It became more patient on offense, working the ball around and only looking for shots toward the end of the shot clock.
In the second frame, Maryland gave Florida some fits on offense, not giving its stars much room to work with. In fact, Florida’s first two scores of the quarter, by LoPinto, only came from a woman-up opportunity and free-position shot.
This must have rejuvenated the Florida offense, as it immediately found their rhythm and played more confidently. They controlled the pace of play, and Florida’s attackers found themselves suddenly able to beat the Terps’ supremely talented defenders one-on-one.
Ultimately, Maryland was left scoreless for the final 14 minutes of the quarter, and the game was all knotted up at eight going into the second half.
To start the third quarter, Florida struck first, when Emma LoPinto found a cutting Ashley Gonzales to give the Gators their first lead of the day.
When Maryland got on offense, it started to rush shots and reverted back to taking players one-on-one. Sarah Reznick also displayed her poise in net, not giving the Terps any angles to shoot from.
LoPinto also began heating up, scoring her third of the game while falling away from the goal in an effortless fashion.
Maryland’s offense continued to struggle in the third frame, as the Gators made the Terps play primarily on the perimeter. They rarely allowed any attackers to get within the 8 meter arc.
Overall, the third frame was disappointing for the Terps, as they failed to net even one goal and continued their nearly 30-minute scoreless streak.
Early in the fourth quarter, the drought finally came to close when May put in her fifth off a pretty pass from Clevenger. Shortly after, Victoria Hensh sparked the offense once more, tying the game at 10 apiece.
We didn’t hesitate and we never quit,” said Reese. “We never put our head down and we kept attacking the cage.”
But stars will be stars, and LoPinto is exactly that. Her unrelenting motor and spectacular footwork allowed her to penetrate the Terps’ defense and put the Gators up by one. She was a tough cover for the Terps’ all-world defense the entire day.
However, the Terps’ veterans began to take things into their own hands. Hensh, May and Clevenger returned to their patented style of patient offense and scored a number of pretty goals, including cashing in on a free position.
In the end, Maryland’s resilience and mindset trumped any sort of woes it had in the previous quarters. Hensh netted the game-winning goal with just 17 seconds remaining, and the Terps took home the gritty win.
“We had planned and we prepared for moments like these,” Hensh said. “It was just like, let’s execute the play that we’ve worked on.”
Maryland’s next matchup is on Wednesday at 2 p.m., when it takes on James Madison.
Three things to know
1. Florida went on a huge run. After the last matchup against Drexel, coach Cathy Reese emphasized how she wanted consistency and not let up big runs by other teams. However, just that occurred today, when the Terps nearly went scoreless in the second quarter and Florida scored four straight to tie the game at 8-8. The Gators continued this run into the second half, eventually taking the lead. Unbelievably enough, the No. 6 Terps were held scoreless in the entire third quarter.
“That’s big. I think that’s one of the biggest things from today,” Reese said of the scoring drought. “You know, we’re playing on the road in a place it’s tough to play...that’s not obviously not what we intended to do.”
Whether it’s simply the Terps getting complacent or the opponent figuring out their strategy and shutting them down, this is an issue that will certainly need to be addressed.
2. Bounce-back mentality. Despite the obvious mishaps in the second and third quarters, it was the resilience of the Terps that proved to be the breakthrough. It was a back-and-forth fourth quarter, and Maryland was able to dig just a bit deeper.
Ultimately, the Terps attitude never went sour, and they didn’t panic even though the stakes were as high as they were. This win over the No. 7 Gators, in this fashion, should bring solace to any Maryland women’s lax fan for future high-stress games in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve really been honing in on trusting each other these past few weeks,” Hensh said. “And so we’ve been building up our team chemistry and just practicing the little things every day.”
3. Turnovers and foul disparity. One of the main reasons that Maryland gave up such a big run were the eight turnovers that they had. They were also not as perfect today on clears as we’ve seen them be recently. They will need to be able to find a way to be patient in moments where the other team is going on runs, and not rush all of their decisions.
Florida had 27 total fouls. This gave Maryland a number of opportunities to go woman-up and get free position shots. Overall, it did a good job of capitalizing, going 5-for-6 on free positions. It comes back to the fact that teams will be more physical with Maryland, and it’s up to Maryland to take advantage of the fouls. Against Syracuse, it was not able to do so well when given these types of chances.