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Big Ten Tournament semifinals preview: Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. Rutgers

The Terps have made the Big Ten championship game in all but one season since joining the conference. 

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Win and advance — No. 2-seed Maryland women’s lacrosse did just that last Saturday in its Big Ten quarterfinal bout against No. 7-seeded Ohio State.

The game was highly contested for the first three frames, with Maryland leading 8-6 headed into the final period. But the resiliency of Maryland’s attack and its dominance in draw controls proved too dominant for the Buckeyes, and the Terps won, 11-7.

Maryland now turns its attention to No. 6-seeded Rutgers, who outlasted Johns Hopkins in its quarterfinal matchup, 15-14. It was a back-and-forth battle, but the Scarlet Knights made a second-half run to secure the win.

Maryland and Rutgers faced off in the Big Ten Tournament final last season. Attackers Libby May, Hannah Leubecker and Aurora Cordingley combined for 13 of the Terps’ 18 scores. In addition, Maryland accumulated 19 more shots and won nine more draw controls en route to an 18-8 rout.

Thursday’s game against the Scarlet Knights will begin at 8:30 p.m. and air on Big Ten Network.

What happened last time

Maryland kicked off its Big Ten schedule this season against Rutgers. It was one of its most thorough victories of the 2023 campaign, as the offense and defense both clicked on all cylinders.

Leubecker returned from a lower-body injury and didn’t miss a beat, netting five goals in the opening two quarters. Four different players had hat tricks as well.

Per usual, Maryland was superior on draw controls, winning the battle 19-8. Senior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn had seven herself, while graduate defender Abby Bosco had six. Meanwhile, the Big Ten’s leader in draw controls per game, Rutgers’ Meghan Ball, had just five.

All game long, Maryland pelted the cage. It finished with 30 total shots, 25 of which were on net. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights finished with just 16.

Although Maryland committed two more turnovers than Rutgers, it was in complete control from the jump. Ultimately, the full body of work displayed on both sides of the ball resulted in a 16-8 thrashing.

What’s happened since

When Maryland beat Rutgers, it was in the midst of a nine-game win streak, which ended up lasting a month. After defeating the Scarlet Knights, the Terps beat a hard-nosed Penn State squad and a ranked Princeton program.

Maryland dropped its next two games, though, to Penn State and Northwestern, respectively. In the contests, the Terps were uncharacteristically mediocre in the draw control circle. They were also not assertive on offense, often finding themselves relegated to undesired shot attempts.

Rutgers, on the other hand, posted a pedestrian 3-4 record after falling to Maryland. All of its losses came against Big Ten opponents. The most notable loss was a 14-4 defeat at the hands of then-No. 15 Michigan.

However, the Scarlet Knights handed then-No. 6 Stony Brook a shock 12-7 loss. Their two other wins came against Vermont and Ohio State, in which they won by a combined score of 28-19.

Three things to watch

1. Draw control trends. Maryland lives and dies in the draw control circle. In nearly all of its wins, Maryland has dominated there. However, in its two most recent losses, the Terps have fallen short in the draw control battle.

It was clear that Maryland put an extra emphasis on draw controls in its last contest against Rutgers. The Terps will need a similar outcome to that on Thursday.

2. Making adjustments. The Terps’ defense has struggled a bit of late, no longer consistently holding opponents to under 10 goals a game. However, their chemistry on offense and the development of junior attacker Eloise Clevenger has been a huge bright spot.

The Scarlet Knights lost their top-25 ranking that they donned at the beginning of the season. However, recent victories against Stony Brook and James Madison, demonstrate that they’re a more than respectable program.

“[Rutgers] is doing some things really well right now,” Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said. “We’ve seen a lot of zone [defense] this year, but we’ve got to be ready like it’s man-to-man. We’ve got to be ready for all these pieces that can be thrown at us this week.”

3. Neutral site atmosphere. For the first time this season, Maryland will play at a neutral site, in Columbus, Ohio. Four of the Terps’ five losses have occurred on the road. It should be interesting to see if they can replicate their home performances at a neutral site.

Standout freshman midfielder Kori Edmondson emphasized her excitement for the playoff atmosphere that Columbus will bring.

“I’m definitely excited. I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” she said. “I think being in the Big Ten Tournament is something I’ve always dreamed of. So to finally get to live out that dream is something I’m really excited to do.”