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Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. Northwestern preview

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The Terps close their regular season with a top-10 matchup.

Maryland women’s lacrosse Photo by Maryland Athletics

It’s been over two months since Maryland women’s lacrosse’s season-opening win over William & Mary. At that point, the Terrapins were simply the defending national champions, and their identity was still unknown entering the 2018 season.

But after 10 weeks of play, it’s clear just how talented this team is and how high the ceiling extends. Thanks to an explosive offense headlined by Megan Whittle and supported by budding superstars such as Caroline Steele, Jen Giles, Kali Hartshorn, and more, the Terps can go score-for-score with anyone in the country.

And with a defense comprised of multiple-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Lizzie Colson and anchored by reigning National Goaltender of the Year Megan Taylor, Maryland can smother opposing offenses and bring their scoring to a halt.

The Terrapins currently boast an impressive 15-1 record and are ranked No. 3 in the Inside Lacrosse Poll, although anything less than another undefeated season may be seen as somewhat of a disappointment after last year’s enormous success.

Thursday’s regular season finale will be against the No. 7-ranked Northwestern Wildcats, currently on an eight-game winning streak after defeating Rutgers on Saturday. The top-10 showdown will begin at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.

No. 7 Northwestern Wildcats (13-3, 5-0 Big Ten)

2017 record: 11-10, 4-2

Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is one of the most respected names in women’s lacrosse, and for good reason. Combined with her time as an elite player at Maryland, Hiller has won a total of nine national championships. That includes a stretch of seven titles in an eight-year span at Northwestern, only furthering her immense lacrosse legacy. Now in her 17th season in Evanston, she’s posted a tremendous 267-60 (.817) record to go with five IWLCA National Coach of the Year Awards.

Players to know

Junior attacker Selena Lasota, No. 2. After missing most of the 2017 campaign due to injury, Lasota has burst onto the scene this season to lead the Wildcats in points. With 45 goals and 15 assists, the offense runs through her, and she doesn’t make it easy for opposing defenses to key in on her. A former Under Armour All-American, Lasota has a lot of experience playing at the national level for Team Canada.

Senior midfielder Sheila Nesselbush, No. 7. Her twin sister Shannon is a member of Northwestern’s stellar defense, but Sheila Nesselbush gets the job done on offense for the Wildcats. She’s second on the team in goals and points, posting 41 and 51, respectively, so far this season. A two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honoree this season, Nesselbush has perfectly complemented the play of Lasota.

Redshirt freshman goalkeeper Julie Krupnick, No. 30. Despite getting no playing experience whatsoever in her first year on campus, Krupnick has established herself as one of the best goalies in the conference. She currently ranks third in the Big Ten with 7.94 saves per game, and her .488 save percentage is within the top 20 in the country. With three more years of eligibility left, it’ll be interesting to see just how good Krupnick can get and how far she can carry this Northwestern program.

Strength

Defensive takeaways. Northwestern’s defense is tenacious and consistently puts opposing offenses into tough situations. That’s why they are the best in the conference in caused turnovers with 9.8 per game. For a Maryland team that has had trouble with the turnover bug all season, that could prove to be fatal.

Weakness

Ball control. For as good as the Wildcats are at taking the ball away from their opponents, they cough it up themselves quite a bit. This team doesn’t have many weaknesses, but turnovers is easily their worst statistical category. With 16.2 per game, Northwestern is second-to-last in the Big Ten and ranks outside of the top 50 nationally.

Three things to watch

1. The Big Ten regular season title is up for grabs. The Big Ten tournament is still to be played, but the regular season title still carries some weight to it. And while Maryland has the home-field advantage, Northwestern is arguably the most complete team it’s faced to date. Thursday’s game is sure to produce a lot of fireworks.

2. Which offense comes out firing? Maryland ranks 12th in the country with 15.88 goals per game, and Northwestern is 16th with 15.19. While both teams have strong defenses, the name of the game for each of them is an attacking powerhouse. Look for the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex to bear witness to an offensive showcase by both sides.

3. Which team goes further in the postseason? As two of the most storied programs in the entire sport of women’s lacrosse, only one thing makes the mark of a successful season for both teams: a national championship. While other schools may take great pride in a regular season conference title, these teams are measured in something much greater.