It’s finally here. After a terrific season that culminated in an 18-1 record, Maryland women’s lacrosse is the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big Ten rather easily.
With that, Maryland swept the headlines following the Big Ten Awards, winning five of the six annual honors given to players and coaches. Among those was Attack Player of the Year, given to Megan Whittle, who was just named one of the five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award.
The Terrapins haven’t played since Sunday, and that long layoff is one of the perks of being a top seed: a first-round bye.
Their first matchup will come in the second round against the Denver Pioneers, who dominated High Point on Friday for the right to face the Terps. It’ll be a familiar sight for Cathy Reese, who coached the Pioneers from 2004-06. Maryland has beaten Denver in both of their all-time meetings, but the teams haven’t met since Reese returned to College Park.
Get to know Denver
Record: 13-6 (6-3 Big East)
How did they get here? Despite losing in the Big East championship game, the NCAA Tournament committee felt that the Pioneers’ season was worthy of an at-large bid. They certainly made the most of the opportunity, rolling to a 19-10 victory over the High Point Panthers on Friday in College Park.
Offensive standout: Junior Julia Feiss is in the midst of another great season, following up a sophomore season in which she had 64 points despite making just seven starts. Her 2018 campaign has led her to First Team All-Big East honors, pacing the team in goals with 45 and also adding 10 assists.
Defensive standout: Leading the team in ground balls with 45, redshirt junior Kennedy Milburn has arguably been Denver’s best defender for three years running. Not only does she lead in ground balls, but Milburn is also tied for the team lead in caused turnovers. Like Feiss, her success has made her worthy of First Team All-Big East honors.
Top newcomer: It’s not often that a freshman is able to come in to lead an NCAA Tournament team in points, but that’s exactly what Quintin Hoch-Bullen has done for the Pioneers. With 40 goals and 17 assists, Hoch-Bullen is Denver’s outright leader in points. Just days after taking home Big East Co-Freshman of the Year honors, she lead the team with five points in their first-round victory over High Point.
Strength: The offense for Denver certainly isn’t great (more on that later), so the reason for their success thus far is defense. The Pioneers allow opposing teams to score just 9.89 goals per game, making them one of 20 schools to hold teams to an average of less than 10 goals.
Weakness: Shooting is arguably the most important thing a lacrosse team has to do, so it’s unfortunate that Denver doesn’t shoot the ball so well. The Pioneers are eighth in the Big East with 21.32 shots on goal per game, a figure that puts them No. 66 nationally. That’s a big reason why the offense can be borderline anemic at times, posting an average of just 12.32 goals.
Preview vs. Maryland
Time: Sunday, May 13, noon ET
What to watch for: This game is going to be one of two separate battles: Maryland’s offense vs. Denver’s defense, and Denver’s offense vs. Maryland’s defense. This is extremely important to think about individually, and once that’s done, the outcome of the game is easy to see.
The Terps can score on just about anybody thanks to Megan Whittle and the rest of the supporting cast, neutralizing the Pioneers’ defensive prowess to a certain extent. As good as Kennedy Milburn and Co. are, Maryland has yet to be held to single digits offensively, with the lowest output being an 11-goal effort against Princeton, and it was certainly an outlier at that.
On the other side, Denver can have extreme difficulties scoring the ball at times—it has five games with less than 10 goals, including an embarrassing three-goal performance against undefeated Stony Brook. Combine that with a Terrapins defense that is No. 16 in the country with only 9.68 goals allowed per game, and it’s a challenge to see a scenario in which the Pioneers light up the scoreboard.
Prediction: Maryland wins, 15-8.