Everyone knows that Maryland women’s lacrosse won the national championship last year, capping off the season with a win over Boston College to claim another national championship. Not only was it the 14th title in the school’s history, but the Terrapins’ 23-0 record marks the fifth undefeated season for the program.
That’s all well and good, but the calendar has flipped and we’re on to 2018. For the third time in the past four seasons, the Terps will kick things off a target on their back—one that only comes with being the best team in the country. If being the defending champs wasn’t enough, Maryland is ranked No. 1 in both the Inside Lacrosse and ILWCA Coaches Polls.
Although a lot of the pieces remain, this isn’t the same team as last year.
The expectations haven’t changed, but a lot of other factors have. To start, the Terps saw nine seniors graduate this past spring, which leaves a lot of lost production to be made up. Combined, they’re losing over thirty percent of their total points that helped make them the highest scoring team in the nation.
Two of the biggest contributors of the country’s best offense are gone. Zoe Stukenberg, a first team All-American and the ILWCA Midfielder of the Year, was second on the team with 84 points. Third-team attacker Caroline Wannen had a very balanced season, posting 39 assists to go along with 35 goals.
The defense is also losing two key members. Nadine Hadnagy was also named the best player at her position by ILWCA, and Morgan Torggler proved to be a pivotal starter in the national championship run.
But there are plenty of reasons to have high expectations again.
A ton of talent is staying put, and they’ll have even more experience than they did to start last season. With another offseason under their belts, these players can come back better than ever before.
Most importantly, the Terrapins will welcome back the best goaltender in the country in Megan Taylor, who won the prestigious award as a sophomore last season. Her .535 save percentage was an elite figure, and she’ll certainly be a force to be reckoned with again.
Also returning is senior Megan Whittle, the team’s leading scorer from 2017. A second-team All-American, she led the team with 71 goals and also added 16 assists en route to a tremendous junior year. Caroline Steele was the hero of the historical win over Boston College, leading the game with six goals. She’s only a junior. The same goes for midfielder Jen Giles, whose eight points led the semifinal game against Penn State.
Four more starters will be back for another potential championship run, as well as a bevy of important role players. But head coach Cathy Reese did a terrific job of bringing in some new faces to complement the already large group of extremely talented players.
Maryland’s recruiting class ranks No. 3 in the country by Inside Lacrosse. A talented group of nine freshmen arrived on campus in the fall and are hungry to add to the program’s storied success. Among them are seven top-100 recruits, most notably No. 6 Catie May and No. 16 Grace Griffin.
Joining these freshmen standouts on campus will be Kathy Rudkin and Meghan Siverson, a senior defender from Syracuse and a junior midfielder from Louisville, respectively. Their unique skill sets along with added experience will make them valuable additions to this Terps team.
Having so much turnover would likely worry some, but Reese is confident everyone will find their place on this squad.
“We’re working a lot of people into our system, but we’re liking what we see as a coaching staff so far and we’re excited to get this season underway,” she said. “We’ve only had a couple weeks together of actually being in-season. But being able to be together every day and knowing now what you’re working towards just makes everything seem a little bit more real. So I think our team is really jelling together nicely there and the chemistry is great.”
Rankings and honors
It’s already been mentioned that Maryland is ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. But that’s not the only recognition the team received in the offseason. The Big Ten Coaches unanimously selected them to win the Big Ten Championship, which proves how well-respected they are, even among their rivals.
Also, nine players have been named to the various All-American teams. Taylor and junior defender Julia Braig were named to the first-team, and the remaining players were spread out among the second-team, third-team, and honorable mention categories.
The talent on the field is undeniable. From four-year players to newcomers, the Terrapins have a wealth of athletes capable of producing from start to finish. But the identity of the team has yet to be seen, at least not publicly. With Hadnagy and Stukenberg gone, Maryland’s captaincies were vacant. The team voted on four new captains for this season; senior attacker Taylor Hensh will join Whittle, Braig, and Giles as they look to pick up where things left off last May.
There are certainly a lot of questions for Maryland going forward, and many will be answered on Sunday. For the fourth season in a row, the Terps will face off against the Tribe of William & Mary.
The program has fallen on some tough times lately, as the team hasn’t finished above .500 since 2011. The same held true in 2017, as the team finished a lowly 3-13. But head coach Hillary Fratzke is looking to turn the program around and bring them back to contention in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Last year saw the Terps travel to Williamsburg, Virginia, and start their perfect season off with a 13-3 win on the road. This time around, Maryland will host the game, which will begin at noon ET Sunday at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex.
While it’d be foolish to put so much emphasis on one game—especially one this early in the year—Sunday’s game will prove as a benchmark for the Terps. If they can easily handle the Tribe as they did each of the past three contests, then the title defense will be off to a roaring start.