No. 10 Maryland women’s lacrosse attacker Eloise Clevenger could not be stopped in its matchup against No. 17 Princeton.
Starting early in the first quarter when she dished out a pair of assists to net-front cutters, Clevenger was on fire from the get-go. In the second quarter, she almost single-handedly propelled Maryland to a 12-5 halftime lead with a bevy of goals and some more assists. Clevenger’s three goals and four assists on the night led a solid showing from the Terps as they took down Princeton, 15-11, on Wednesday night in College Park.
“As we see her confidence continue to grow, we’re seeing her be more dynamic,” Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said. “She can play up top, she can play behind [the net], she can dodge.”
The game began with a draw control win by Maryland. After working the ball around as usual, the Tigers eventually fouled Maryland. The Terps didn’t waste the opportunity, as attacker Hannah Leubecker made a quick dodge to the cage and fired a remarkable shot to give Maryland its first lead of the game.
Princeton didn’t take long to respond to Maryland’s punch, waiting patiently and isolating attackers on the offensive end. Kari Buonanno struck first for the Tigers, scoring against tightly contested defense by Abby Bosco.
Libby May continued the scoring for the Terps shortly after, capitalizing after making a swift cut to the cage. Clevenger, Maryland’s leader in assists, made no mistake in finding the open May for the go-ahead goal.
The next few minutes were filled with turnovers and amazing saves from both programs. Although tough, physical defense was played by both teams, fouls were plentiful. While Princeton failed to secure its free position opportunity, May cashed in on her attempt for Maryland.
In the next couple of minutes that followed, midfielder Shaylan Ahearn scored for Maryland, with the helper coming from Clevenger from her position behind the opposition’s net.
The first frame ended with Princeton taking some of the momentum. Attacker Jami MacDonald even scored a pretty behind-the-back goal. Heading into the second quarter, Maryland held a 6-4 lead.
The Terps opened the second quarter with one of their quickest scores to open a quarter all season. Just 18 seconds in, Clevenger fired a missile to the middle of the crease area, and Leubecker used her quick release to score before the Tigers’ goalkeeper could even react.
About a minute later, May scored on her patented quick-release shot to extend the lead even further. Then, freshman standout Kori Edmondson’s two straight goals forced Princeton to call a timeout. In just the first five minutes of the second quarter, Maryland scored five goals.
Maryland’s offense was simply operating perfectly. When it was given free position opportunities, it cashed in. When the Tigers’ defense pressed it, it made quick passes, which almost always led to a net-front goal. The Terps’ offense isolated too, and Edmondson proved that type of scheme could work on her first score. In the first 20 minutes of play, Clevenger had four goals and one assist and May had four scores.
The Terrapin defense was smothering. With Princeton already having some trouble with drops, Maryland accentuated its issues by forcing turnovers and passes that weren’t open. With their tightly contested man-to-man defense, the Terps left little room for any attacker to operate.
At halftime, the Terrapins led the Tigers by a score of 12-5.
The third frame commenced with a Princeton draw control and subsequent Emily Sterling save. However, as the Terps couldn’t score on their first possession, the Tigers quickly got the ball back and capitalized on a free position shot.
Five minutes later, Princeton scored once more. It marked its second in a row. Maryland had a few chances to score itself during that time, but Reese opted to deploy some of the backups so they could get playing time.
“It was kind of a situation where we knew we needed to get some good looks and yet we weren’t shooting very well,” Reese said. “It was a little bit of frustration, and a little bit of who’s going to be the one to step up.”
After Princeton’s second of the quarter, Reese subbed the starters back in and May started right where she left off, netting an unassisted score. It was her fifth of the night.
Clevenger scored late in the quarter, which ended up being her seventh point of the affair. It gave the Terps a boost of momentum heading into the fourth quarter in a game they already led big. After three frames, Maryland was on top, 14-7.
Princeton opened the fourth-quarter scoring about three minutes in to cut the Maryland lead to six. However, May answered back relatively quickly, scoring her sixth goal of the match.
But Princeton wasn't going down without a fight. It notched two straight free position goals to make it a 15-10 game with a little less than eight minutes remaining.
“We did get the job done, but I think we can be so much better,” former Princeton and current Maryland defender Marge Donovan said. “This defense is capable of some incredible things. We need to have a sustained effort from the start of quarter one to the final whistle.”
After the Terps turned the ball over on a sloppy pass, Princeton made them pay on the other end and cut the lead down to four. Maryland managed to hang on, though, and locked down on defense for the last six-plus minutes.
Three things to know
1. The offense was superb. Yes, the Terps had 16 turnovers. And even with that, Maryland netted 15 goals. What’s more important is that the stars played like stars Wednesday. Clevenger headlined the scoring, notching three goals and four assists. May, the team-leading goal scorer, had six. Edmondson, who has been the brightest spot on the roster this season, had two goals.
Looking further than the statistics, the Terps controlled the flow of the game. It never felt as though they were rushing their offense, and each pass was made with conviction and trust.
“I think what’s so special about Maryland lacrosse every single year is that everybody on the offensive end can be dangerous,” May said. “I think it’s great that we have different people step up every game. It’s super exciting.”
2. Draw control battle. Heading into the match, it was expected that Maryland would crush Princeton in draw control wins, given how poorly the Tigers have performed on them and the abundance of riches the Terps have in the circle. However, it was much closer than anyone could’ve anticipated, as Maryland only won 15 of 30 draw controls.
In some ways, it speaks to how well the defense operated, given that Princeton was granted more chances. It’s most likely an anomaly, and simply a nitpick at what was an exceptional night of lacrosse for the Terrapins.
“A lot of them were just 50-50 balls,” Reese said of the draw controls battle. “Possessions kind of ended up being equal there...we did what we needed to do but we have a whole other level [to get to].”
3. Encouraging improvement. Following its losses to James Madison and Denver, Maryland has seen considerable improvement and confidence both in its offense and defense. The days are over where the Terps give up five or six goal runs to clearly overmatched opponents.
Always composed, Maryland has now taken early leads over each team it has played, and it has kept those leads. Since the Denver loss, the Terps have outscored their opponents 93-45 and look to be a formidable threat. If Maryland were to play a team such as Syracuse again — a game in which the Terps lost 20-11 — expect the score to be much closer.
“We’re over the midway point in the season and I like our progression,” Reese said. “I like where we’re headed ... excited to again finish out with conference play for the next five games.”