Maryland women’s lacrosse has had its fair share of ups and downs this season. But with the Big Ten Tournament rapidly approaching — set for this weekend — the Terps are undoubtedly hoping that their best lacrosse is in front of them. Given what we’ve seen of recent, it’s certainly shaping up to be an entertaining postseason run.
Maryland was unable to match its dominant 2022 regular season, in which it posted a 15-1 regular season record and reached the national semifinals. It had the luxury of Tewaaraton Award finalist Aurora Cordingley, who sparked the Terps’ offensive attack, netting 67 goals and dishing out 51 assists.
The Terps’ offense looks to have finally adjusted of late, so what’s to expect from them this postseason? There have been stretches of brilliance this season, but also some head-scratching moments. A closer look may explain where the Terps have gone wrong and where their strengths lie.
Maryland lost five games this regular season, four more than last year. Its first defeat came at the hands of Syracuse, who remained undefeated until its final regular-season game. Play was competitive for the first frame, but the Terps lost control in the ensuing quarter, allowing five goals yet only scoring one of their own.
In the 20-11 trouncing, no player scored more than two goals. Sophomore midfielder Jordyn Lipkin, who was a significant part of the offense at the time, has not scored in eight straight contests. On the flip side, emerging freshman midfielder Kori Edmondson didn’t see much action at all against the Orange, only scoring in the fourth quarter when the match had already been decided.
Even with the offensive struggles, it was even more of a surprise to see the star-studded Maryland defense allow 20 goals. Heading into the season, the abundance of riches on the Terps’ back end looked formidable, to say the least. With the return of the 2022 Big Ten Defender of the Year Abby Bosco and the additions of Ivy League Defender of the Year Marge Donovan, transfer Clancy Rheude and redshirt Kennedy Major, the Terps appeared to be unbeatable.
While unfair to describe a new team by its first performance of the season, a theme was made clear in the opener; this team’s path to success would not be through its usual path of trouncings.
Upon reflection, as well as conversations with the team, it became clear that the Terps’ defense was simply unfamiliar with one another. Trying to build chemistry while simultaneously taking on one of the most prolific offenses in the country was not a recipe for success.
The Terps prefer to employ a tight man-coverage style of defense. However, in the season’s early stages, it also served as their downfall. Players were late on switches, didn’t communicate well on picks and simply allowed too many mismatches, namely against star Syracuse attacker Meghan Tyrell.
Maryland’s next two losses occurred in its first six games; both in succession. The first came against a James Madison team that defeated the Terps in the 2022 season. After taking an early lead and going on a few key runs, the Dukes were able to withstand a late Terrapin rally.
In the 8-7 loss, it was the offense that failed to deliver. Although the Terps outshot the Dukes 29-16, they couldn’t produce the requisite amount of offense to deliver any sort of counter-punch. It didn’t help that they capitalized on just five of 12 free-position opportunities.
Maryland’s loss against Denver was somewhat of an anomaly. The Pioneers play one of the most intriguing brands of women’s lacrosse, as they hardly score. In the loss, the Terps caused seven turnovers and goalkeeper Emily Sterling had eight saves. Yet, Denver still finds itself ranked No. 3 in the IWLCA national poll thanks to its stellar defense.
Similar to the James Madison loss, Maryland had a disappointing showing from the eight-meter arc, going a measly 2-for-8 from the spot. In addition, the Terps committed a season-high 17 turnovers and shot an abysmal 7-for-23.
Maryland’s penultimate loss came in its most recent affair against Big Ten rival Penn State. Heading into the match, Maryland had won nine straight. So what led to the streak being broken?
For starters, the turnover disparity was one of the worst of the season, as the Terps gave the ball away 16 times to the Nittany Lions’ nine. This, along with subpar draw-circle performances, allowed Penn State to control the flow and pace of the game. This became especially apparent during the second and fourth periods, when the Nittany Lions outscored the Terps by a combined score of 8-3.
After dropping their regular-season finale to powerhouse Northwestern, the Terps have to reflect on what ensued in their losses.
Can they compete with the best of the best? Some of their wins this season might answer that.
Maryland still did a lot of winning. Being that it’s accumulated twelve victories, let’s highlight the ones that were the most impressive and illustrate what the Terps do well.
The first marquee victory of the season came against then-No. 7 Florida. Arguably the most riveting match of the Terps’ season, it took a last-minute score by junior attacker Victoria Hensh to propel them to a 14-13 win.
What was most salient about the victory, however, wasn’t the last-second goal, but rather the mental fortitude that the Terps displayed. The offense was held scoreless for the entire third quarter, which allowed Florida to catapult itself back into the game and retake the lead. The ability of the offense to bounce back and flip the switch in the final frame was one of the first signs that the Terps might have the makings of a championship-caliber squad.
Another huge win for Maryland came in its match against then-No. 22 Rutgers. This one was especially notable, as it was the Terps’ Big Ten opener. Conference play, especially in the Big Ten, is always highly contested, high-stakes and competitive.
Heading into the contest, one could presume that the Scarlet Knights would be chomping at the bit for revenge, given that the Terps beat them twice the year before. In the latter match, Maryland eliminated them from the Big Ten Tournament.
However, the Terps erased any of those concerns, taking command from the get-go. In her return from a lower-body injury, senior attacker Hannah Leubecker scored five times, all in the first half. Three other Terps netted hat tricks as the offense completely overwhelmed the Scarlet Knight defense. In addition, they shot 16-for-28 and won the draw control battle, 19-8.
In some ways, this point in the season was Maryland’s peak. The defense wasn’t giving opponents any room to work with, consistently holding teams to under 10 goals. On offense, Edmondson began to flourish, going on a six-game streak of hat tricks. Junior attacker Eloise Clevenger demonstrated her growth, too. She has effectively become the offensive catalyst for the Terps, expanding her role from a behind-the-net distributor to a more-than-capable goal scorer. As a result, the attack opened up, resulting in more open passing lanes and scoring opportunities.
The last outstanding Maryland win is its most recent, an 18-7 thrashing of Ohio State. Even head coach Cathy Reese called the wire-to-wire victory the Terps’ most impressive of the season. It’s easy to see why, given the utter dominance that they displayed. Clevenger set the single-game program assist record with eight helpers. Three Terps posted hat tricks, including junior midfielder Shannon Smith.
Smith’s development this season shouldn’t be overlooked, either. She is one of three Terps, along with Edmondson and Shaylan Ahearn, to make significant contributions on offense, defense and in the draw control circle.
So what’s to make of all this?
In its losses, Maryland’s main problem was its inability to convert on offense. Reese has made it known that she wants her team to shoot at least 50% from the field. It’s tough to postulate exactly why the Terps were getting bottled up on offense, and even tougher to concoct a remedy.
One of the main issues, especially early on, was Maryland’s lack of ball movement. It often led to isolation offense and rushed shots as the shot clock winded down. Getting into its offensive sets early and tiring the defense will bode well for a team that thrives on speed and skill.
Another issue for the Terps was their proclivity for turnovers. This seemed to occur when the offense tried to force passes into the vicinity of the crease. Against teams that use a zone defense, this strategy often pans out, but it rarely works when they play skilled man defenses.
It’s clear that Reese has trust in her attackers, and she has a number of skilled ones at her disposal. Edmondson and May are the most skilled dodgers on the team, while Leubecker’s physical nature allows her open looks. Utilizing these weapons against man coverage should consistently go in Maryland’s favor.
In its wins, Maryland controlled the pace of play. Second in the Big Ten with 15.94 draw controls per game, the Terps are able to make opponents chase them all game long and force careless errors. It’s almost manipulative at times how Maryland operates.
Ultimately, Maryland is about to face a slew of programs that won’t easily bow down. The contests will be tough, physical and demanding. But Reese and the Terps aren’t new to the playoff atmosphere.
Maryland has advanced to the Final Four in 12 of the past 13 seasons, and has a championship culture instilled in it with Reese at the helm.
The Terps have played in big games all season and have confronted all of the challenges presented to them head-on.
Over the next month, we’ll see just what this team is made of.