Maryland women’s lacrosse started the 2018 season off with a bang, as the defending national champs beat William & Mary 18-7 to start their title defense.
Thanks to a five-point game from Megan Whittle and four-point showings from both Caroline Steele and Jen Giles, the Terrapins’ offense was rolling early. They scored 10 goals in less than 13 minutes, giving them a lead they would not relinquish.
While the offense was firing on all cylinders, the starting defense also stepped up in a big way. Anchored by reigning IWLCA Goaltender of the Year Megan Taylor, the team gave up just two first-half goals to the Tribe, demonstrating its ability to dominate on both ends of the field.
Maryland will now face a tough test on the road when it travels to Gainesville to face No. 3-ranked Florida. The Gators are coming off a 16-9 victory over then-No. 17 Colorado.
No. 3 Florida Gators (1-0)
2017 record: 17-3, 9-0 Big East
Head coach Amanda O’Leary is the only coach in Florida’s short program history, now in her ninth season in charge of the Gators. Since the team’s inception in 2010, O’Leary has turned Florida into a national powerhouse. Her teams have posted a combined record of 294-71 and have made seven NCAA Tournament appearances in just eight seasons.
Players to know
Junior attacker Lindsey Ronbeck, No. 14. She got off to a great start in the season opener against Colorado, scoring three goals and adding two assists to help the Gators get an early victory. It’s more of the same for Ronbeck, who is Florida’s highest returning scorer after a 73-point sophomore campaign.
Junior midfielder Madi Hall, No. 23. With Sammi Burgess and Mollie Stevens graduating last year, Florida’s offense needed someone to step up and replace that lost production. After one game, it seems that Hall may be the one to fill in. She had scored on all three shots she took, and she’s on pace to blow away last year’s total of nine goals.
Junior goaltender Haley Hicklen, No. 29. In the first game of the year, she had 14 saves while giving up just nine goals. And while the season has just begun, her save percentage of .609 is the sixth-best in the country. Last year, Hicklen was pretty successful, but it seems as though she has taken that leap towards becoming elite.
Passing. As a team, the Gators combined for eight assists against Colorado. Considering they had five goals off free-position shots, getting assists on eight of eleven goals in the run of play is extremely impressive. It’ll be tough to continue that efficiency against a defense like Maryland’s, but Florida certainly has the personnel to move the ball around well.
Takeaways. Being the No. 3 team in the country, there aren’t many things that can be called a “weakness” for Florida. But one thing this team lacked in the opener was forcing Colorado into turnovers. They took the ball away just nine times, and they’ll have to disrupt the Terps’ rhythm and get those takeaways if they want a good chance to win.
Three things to watch
- Which powerhouse blinks first? The Terps and the Gators are two of the best teams in the country each and every year. While Maryland blows Florida away in terms of national championships (13-0), the teams have similar talent levels and match up against each other well. The Terps won this matchup 18-8 in College Park last year, but it’s still hard to predict what will happen this early in a new season.
- Will Maryland continue to get everyone involved? Against William & Mary, Cathy Reese did a great job of rotating a lot of players in to keep the starters fresh and give others valuable experience. Perhaps that’s a luxury of blowing a team out, but the feel from the team is that the Terps pride themselves on how deep the talent pool is. We’ll see pretty soon if that sentiment continues against better competition.
- Can Florida stun Maryland? These teams may be ranked Nos. 1 and 3, but the Terps sit in a tier of their own. Winners of three of the past four national championships, they’ve become the class of women’s lacrosse. If Florida wants to prove to the country that it’s for real in 2018, beating Maryland would do wonders to achieve that goal.