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NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament 2017 preview: Maryland faces Penn State in the Final Four

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The Terps look to pick up their second victory over the Nittany Lions this season.

NCAA Lacrosse: Women's Semi Final-Maryland vs Syracuse Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

After a thrilling comeback over Stony Brook, Maryland women’s lacrosse will face Penn State in its ninth consecutive Final Four appearance. The Nittany Lions are coming off a 14-12 victory over Princeton that clinched their second straight Final Four appearance.

Maryland and Penn State will face off on Friday at 5 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3.

Last Meeting

Maryland and Penn State last met on April 20, and it resulted in a 16-14 Terps victory, their toughest regular season matchup. After an even first half, Maryland won the second half thanks to goals by six different players, with Kali Hartshorn and Caroline Steele finishing with a combined seven goals. The Terps outshot Penn State 26-9 in the second half as they slowly took control of the game.

However, Maryland played an undisciplined game, racking up 28 fouls and four yellow cards. The Terps have earned just 17 yellow cards over 21 games, so four in one game is uncharacteristic.

Statistically, Megan Taylor struggled in this game, allowing 14 goals on 21 shots. While she made key saves down the stretch, she’ll need to be better on Friday against an explosive Penn State offense.

No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions (17-3)

Players to Watch

Madison Carter, 5’8, midfield, No. 24. Carter leads Penn State with 69 goals and is averaging 6.15 draw controls per game, both ranked ninth in the country. Her 123 total draw controls is by far the best on the team, and her 80 points is second. Last time, Carter dominated the Terps, scoring six goals and collecting nine draw controls. She scored three times with 12 draw controls last week against Princeton.

Steph Lazo, 5’4, attack, No. 23. The senior enters the Final Four as Penn State’s points leader with 87, split relatively evenly with 45 goals and 42 assists. Maryland held Lazo to two goals and three assists in the regular season, and she is coming off a scoreless performance in the quarterfinals. She hasn’t been as explosive as Carter, but Lazo is still someone Maryland must keep an eye on.

Katie O’Donnell, 5’7, midfield, No. 5. O’Donnell’s 61 goals come in second on the team and tied for 18th in the country. She didn’t have much trouble against the Terps a month ago, scoring five goals on six shots. Additionally, she is coming off a hat trick last time out and has scored 28 goals in her last seven games.

Cat Rainone, 5’1, goalkeeper, No. 33. The Nittany Lions goalkeeper has had a strong sophomore season, currently top 20 in the nation with a .487 save percentage. Against Princeton, she saved 13 of 25 shots, and against Maryland she saved 15 of 31 shots.

Strengths

Scoring offense. With three 40-goal scorers and two above 60, Penn State ranks 14th in the country averaging 14.65 goals per game. The Nittany Lions have only scored single-digit goals in one game this year, and they still won. After struggling against Stony Brook, Megan Taylor and Maryland’s defense need to be stronger in this game.

Draw controls. With Madison Carter leading the charge, Penn State ranks 16th with 14.7 draw controls per game. Maryland barely won the battle in these team’s last meeting, 17-15, and it will need to win it again to have the upper hand.

Weakness

Free position chances. For all the Nittany Lions’ offensive success, they struggle after getting fouled. Penn State enters Friday with a .367 free position percentage, ranked 89th in the country. Maryland’s defense can afford to get more physical than normal due to Penn State’s deficiencies in this area.

Three Things to Watch

  1. Who wins the draw control battle? This is going to be a huge factor in the game. Maryland comfortably defeated Stony Brook 19-7 in draws, including huge wins down the stretch that kept the ball in the Terps’ offensive zone. The emergence of Lizzie Colson, who won four controls last Saturday, could make a big difference. Colson, Kali Hartshorn and the rest of the Terps’ draw control group have to limit Carter’s influence on this game.
  2. Can Megan Taylor bounce back? For the first time this year, the Terps goalkeeper was a liability against Stony Brook. Between the quarterfinal and the last Penn State match, she’s allowed an uncharacteristic 26 goals on 40 shots. She has been one of the best goalkeepers in the country this year, and she needs to show it on Friday.
  3. Will Alex McKay play? McKay is normally a constant on Maryland’s defense, but she has missed the last two games with an injury. Considering the Terps struggled in their defensive zone last week, getting McKay back would give them a huge boost on the back end.

Final Four fun fact

Each of the four coaches in the Final Four has some kind of Maryland connection. Besides Cathy Reese, who both played and coached at Maryland, Penn State’s Missy Doherty and Boston College’s Acacia Walker played for and graduated from Maryland in 1997 and 2005, respectively. Additionally, Navy’s Cindy Timchal spent 14 years as Maryland’s head coach, winning seven straight and eight total national titles from 1992-2001. She also coached the other three head coaches when they played for Maryland.