It was a rollercoaster of emotions Wednesday when No. 5 Maryland women’s lacrosse fell to the No. 12 James Madison Dukes.
For three quarters, the Terps looked sluggish, often getting beat to the net by cutters while on defense and being unable to dodge past opposing defenders while on offense.
In the final frame, however, the Terps looked more like the title contenders they are, scoring three straight and dominating most of the quarter before falling just short.
Now the Terps return home after a four-game road trip and will prepare themselves for another dog fight, as they face off against a rising program in No. 9 Denver.
The Pioneers are one of only a handful of teams remaining in the country with an unblemished record. In their five games they have outscored their opponents by a total of 16 goals. Their only victory against a ranked opponent so far this year came against No. 21 Michigan, where they won 7-5.
Sunday’s game will begin at 12 p.m. and stream on Big Ten Plus.
Denver Pioneers (5-0, 0-0 Big East)
2022 record: 18-3, 5-0 Big East
Liza Kelly is now in her 17th season of coaching at the University of Denver. Before coaching at Denver, she spent five seasons at the helm of Boston University. Under her leadership, Denver won its third straight regular season title in 2022. Kelly boasts a 278-109 overall record. She was recently named the IWLCA West/Midwest Region Coach of the Year. As a player, Kelly was a midfielder for Delaware, where she was an All-American three times.
Players to know
Sam Thacker, senior defender, No. 16 — Not only is Thacker the best defensive player on Denver’s squad, she’s one of the premier defenders in the entire nation. Last season, Thacker led the country in caused turnovers (64) and caused turnovers per game (3.05). She also produced nine games with three or more ground balls. In 2022, Thacker was a member of the All-Big East first team and the IWLCA All-American first team.
Ellie Curry, senior midfielder, No. 32 — Curry, a Maryland native, was a unanimous selection to the All Big-East First Team in 2022. This came after a season in which she played in all 21 games and posted career highs in goals (21), assists (14) and points (35). She also posted 27 ground balls, 23 caused turnovers and four draw controls.
Lauren Black, sophomore attacker, No. 1 — As a freshman last season, Black finished second on the team in all three scoring categories with 54 goals, 20 assists and 74 points. As a result of her impressive play, Black was named Big East Freshman of the Year. She was also named to the All-Big East first team. In international play, Black won a gold medal with Canada at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama.
Defense. The Pioneers have held each of their opponents to eight goals or fewer so far this season. That in itself is an astronomical feat. Denver is also second in the Big East in save percentage (.526). Yet, its goalkeeper has only made an average of six saves per game this season, which is lowest in the conference. This stresses just how good of a defensive unit Denver has and proves that it is not allowing other teams to unload shots on goal.
Scoring. Denver has not exactly been a team of offensive firepower so far this season. In the Big East, it ranks last in goals per game (8.6) and assists per game (three). This is a direct result of it not being able to obtain possession of the ball, as it ranks last in the conference in draw controls won per game with 11.6. Additionally, while on offense, it doesn’t rack up many scoring opportunities, also ranking dead last in shots per game (25.4).
Three things to watch
1. Fixing the static offense. Against James Madison, the Terps were outworked and outpaced consistently on the offensive end. It seemed as though once the Terps’ game plan failed to execute, they stopped moving and became a much easier cover. This resulted in numerous erratic passes, dropped passes and even some shot clock violations.
Teams will continue to foul the Terps and give them free position opportunities, that much is clear. What’s important is that the Terps execute them at a high clip. However, they only went 2-for-6 in their last matchup on such chances. It’s just like free throws in basketball — Maryland simply has to make the opposing team pay for its shoddy defense.
2. Goalkeeper play. Emily Sterling is still one of the premier goalkeepers in the nation, there’s no doubt about it. The 20 goals given up against Syracuse were absolutely not all her fault. She has made some tremendously clutch saves over the course of the season so far, most notably against Florida.
However, it is still worth noting that Maryland ranks dead last in the Big Ten in save percentage (.375). Additionally, the Terps are fifth in the conference in goals against average (11) and sixth in saves per game (6.6).
3. Where have the freshmen gone? Maryland recruited the No. 1 class in the country this past year. Three of its newcomers were ranked in the top 10 of the class. A number of them flourished in the opener against Saint Joseph’s.
However, the young stars have not been producing at such a torrid clip as of late. The No. 1 recruit in the nation, Kori Edmondson, only has four points so far this season. Jaylen Rosga, after scoring two goals in the opener, has not posted a point since. At this point, it’s entirely possible that they’ve been buried in the depth chart. Whatever the case is, many will be curious to see if they can find a way to contribute more in the future.