No. 11 Maryland’s attack couldn’t be stopped in Friday’s first round NCAA Tournament game — no matter the time on the clock.
With just two seconds remaining in the first quarter against Drexel, senior attacker Libby May scooped up a ground ball on the baseline. Junior midfielder Shannon Smith found herself in front of the goal and emphatically shot the ball into the back of the net to put the Terps up by four. Maryland excelled on both sides of the ball en route to an 11-6 victory.
Friday’s win marked the eighth straight year in which the Terps advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Drexel seized the opening draw control, but went scoreless on its first possession — an early stop for senior goalkeeper Emily Sterling set the tone for the Terps. After a successful clear and execution on offense, senior attacker Hannah Leubecker capitalized on a free-position opportunity.
But Drexel struck back, winning its second consecutive draw control and scoring on a physical drive to the goalmouth. Leubecker responded just seconds later for her second of the game, though. This time, she found a soft spot in the Dragons’ zone defense and junior attacker Chrissy Thomas set her up nicely.
Drexel’s game plan was clear from the onset — attack hard and with pace. However, Maryland’s stifling man-coverage defense kept the Dragons at bay. The Terps quickly scored three straight, forcing a Drexel timeout. Maryland’s attack stayed red-hot even after the stoppage, as junior attacker Eloise Clevenger cashed in.
Drexel stemmed the tide, though, scoring on a rebound not long after. In the first frame, the Dragons won six draw controls while the Terps managed just two. With Maryland senior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn active, that was a shocking stat.
But, Sterling was excellent early, making four saves.
From then on, Maryland’s methodical attack proved too much for Drexel, and the four-goal lead continued to rise.
Five minutes into the frame, May netted her first of the contest. In the minutes that followed, both programs were stymied on their offensive possessions. Defender Abby Bosco racked up three quick turnovers and halted Drexel’s offense.
Eventually, redshirt junior Kate Sites scored for Maryland. Sites, who had been a productive player off the bench in the Big Ten Tournament, blazed past her defender and managed an impressive finish just feet from the crease.
The Terps cruised into the half with a comfortable 8-2 lead.
The third quarter began with a Maryland draw control, but a Clevenger turnover ended its offensive trip. Drexel’s first possession came to a close after a shot scampered wide of the net.
Both squads played air-tight defense in the third frame. The game’s slow pace also plagued both attacks. May called for an isolation multiple times, but none of the attempts proved successful.
Drexel broke the silence about halfway through the third frame, its first score in nearly 30 minutes. It then won the subsequent draw control, only to be stoned by Sterling on its first shot attempt.
Desperately needing a boost of energy, Bosco turned on the jets and ran coast-to-coast with the ball. No Drexel player slid to mark one of the Big Ten’s premier defenders, and she provided an emphatic finish to the lively sequence.
“It’s something that we’ve practiced a ton of times,” Bosco said. “If they’re not going to respect you and pick you up, go to goal.”
The fourth quarter started off just as slow as the third. Maryland didn’t exactly look to assert itself on attack. With a seven goal lead, it was more interested in chewing clock and relying on its defense to thwart a Drexel comeback.
A push by Drexel mid-way through the final quarter fell short. Drexel did force eight Maryland fouls in the frame, attacking with urgency and aplomb.
The Terps will take on James Madison in the quarterfinals Sunday afternoon.
“We have to make some changes in a day and we have to be ready to move a really good goalie,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We’ve grown a lot as the season’s gone on ... we get to reset and refocus and prepare for a tough team on their home field on Sunday.”
Three things to know
1. The goalkeepers shined. Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Emily Sterling played exceptionally well, racking up nine saves Friday. However, Drexel’s Jenika Cuoco arguably outperformed her, keeping the Dragons in the thick of the fight deep into the fourth quarter with her 12 saves.
Cuoco was most imposing in the final frame, holding the Terps to just one score, which allowed for a comeback attempt to take place. Without her valiant effort in net, Maryland’s attack could have very well doubled its offensive output.
“Emily is definitely the leader in the back of our defense,” Reese said. “[She] made a lot of great saves tonight and communicated well.”
2. A slow second half. Both teams’ offenses took a back seat in the the final two frames, with just seven combined scores. As well, Drexel managed just four total shots in the third quarter while Maryland took six.
The Terps turned the ball over five times in the half and the attack drew an astounding 10 fouls in the third quarter, which allowed them to run time off the clock. On defense, the Terps did well to contain Drexel’s leading scorer, senior midfielder Corinne Bednarik. She managed just two points.
“I thought our defense played really well in just kind of collapsing and just trying to limit easy opportunities,” Reese said. “[The defense] crashed to the middle and made it difficult for Drexel to get any easy openings.”
3. Surprising draw control results. Heading into the game, Drexel ranked sixth in the Colonial Athletic Association with 12.24 draw controls per game. Meanwhile, Maryland placed second in the Big Ten with 16.1 per game.
However, the Dragons matched the Terps in the circle, as both teams totaled 10 draws on the evening. Ahearn astonishingly did not have a single draw control victory. The brunt of the circle work was done by Bosco, Smith and sophomore Hailey Russo, all of whom won three apiece.
“We tried to change it up about halfway through,” Reese said. “We were getting beat to some bounces ... I thought we did a good job on ground balls. I just thought we had too many empty stick fouls which we could do a better job of controlling.”