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Big Ten Tournament title game preview: Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. Northwestern

The Terps will vie for their fifth Big Ten Tournament title.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

It was a near-flawless victory for No. 2-seed Maryland women’s lacrosse, as they handled Rutgers, 15-9, Thursday night.

The Terps began the game on an 8-0 run, holding the Scarlet Knights scoreless through the first 20 minutes of gameplay. Junior attackers Chrissy Thomas and Eloise Clevenger were dominant. Thomas’s six assists in the contest marked a career-high, while Clevenger’s four scores were a season high.

In the second half, the Terps maintained their torrid pace. The Rutgers defense had trouble matching the speed of the Maryland attackers, which freed up open space for shooters in front of the cage. Despite a brief run by the Scarlet Knights in the fourth quarter, the victory was still convincing.

The almighty No. 1-seed Northwestern Wildcats now loom for the Terps, boasting a current record of 16-1. They defeated the No. 4-seed Michigan Wolverines, 18-11, in their Big Ten Tournament semifinal matchup.

Saturday’s game against the Wildcats will begin at 8 p.m. and air on Big Ten Network.

What happened last time

Maryland’s loss to Northwestern less than one month ago was arguably its worst of the 2023 campaign.

Northwestern was big, fast and physical. Over the course of the season, the Terps have used their athleticism to outperform opponents, but the Wildcats stuck with them every step of the way.

The first half was an extremely competitive, low-scoring series of events. Star graduate attacker Izzy Scane scored for Northwestern right off the bat, but disappeared for most of the contest. The Terps spread the ball extremely well, with three different scorers capitalizing in the first two frames.

The third quarter was where the Terps ran into some issues. The Wildcats won the draw control battle 5-2 in the frame. This quickly wore out the Maryland defense and allowed the Northwestern attackers to develop a rhythm.

The Terps also turned the ball over four times in the quarter. In retrospect, the attack barely had possession. After three frames, the Wildcats led 9-5.

The final period was no better than the previous one for the Terps. Northwestern scored within the first two minutes and squashed whatever life Maryland still had at that point. Failing to win some key late-game draw controls, the Terps ended up falling to Northwestern, 13-6.

What’s happened since

Maryland and Northwestern have only played a combined three games since their duel on April 22.

With Northwestern securing the Big Ten regular-season title and first-round bye in the conference tournament, Maryland was forced into playing a quarterfinal matchup against No. 7-seed Ohio State. In the match, the Terps outshot the Buckeyes by 13 and won a staggering 19 draw controls in comparison to Ohio State’s measly three. Its next contest was the aforementioned steamrolling of Rutgers.

Meanwhile, Northwestern’s only matchup since its rout of Maryland came against No. 4-seed Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. After the first quarter, Northwestern already had a comfortable 6-2 lead. In the affair, each of the Wildcats’ three star attackers posted four goals. The team put up 37 total shots and won the draw control battle 19-13.

Three things to watch

1. Can the Terps outlast the Wildcats in the draw circle? In their duel two weeks ago, Northwestern won three more draw controls than the Terps. It proved to make a huge difference in the second half, as Maryland wore itself out trying to climb back in the game. The defense was forced to double the Wildcats’ attackers and constantly chase them around.

If the Terps want any shot at the title on Saturday, it will be indispensable that they come out victorious in this facet of the game.

2. Shutting down the stars. Northwestern’s attack unit is on fire. All three of its starting attackers have accumulated 46 goals or more on the season. In the match against Maryland, Scane was held to just one score, her lowest mark of the entire season by three goals. Meanwhile, Erin Coykendall netted a hat trick and Hailey Rhatigan scored four times.

Overall, Maryland performed extremely well defensively in its last match against Northwestern, holding the most potent offense in the country to its lowest scoring total of the season. If the Terps want to come out on top on Saturday, they should start by replicating the same defensive formula as last time.

3. Who will step up? Whether it’s a clutch goal, game-breaking forced turnover or a timely draw control, Maryland will need its best players to step up in a big way. Northwestern is not like any other opponent that Maryland has played this season. It will take just a little more push from each unit to grind out a victory.

Maryland needs senior midfielder Shaylan Ahearn, graduate defender Abby Bosco and Clevenger to be at their very best. To top it off, if senior goalkeeper Emily Sterling can make anywhere from 8-12 saves, the Terps could very well walk out of Columbus, Ohio as champions of the Big Ten.