Maryland women’s lacrosse is as hot as a team can be right now, as the Terps’ 15-game winning streak is among the best in the country this season. After finishing the regular season with the best record in the Big Ten, Maryland rolled in its semifinal matchup against Johns Hopkins.
After Boston College fell to North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game, all the Terps have to do to get perhaps the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is beat Penn State, a team they have already beaten this season. But the postseason is a different animal, and nothing is a given. Let’s take a look at Maryland’s Big Ten championship game opponent.
Get to know Penn State
Record: 10-8 (4-3 Big Ten)
How did they get here? A strong start to the regular season has Penn State currently ranked in the top 20, but the Nittany Lions faltered down the stretch. Despite losing their final four games, they were able to grab the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. A 21-16 win over Northwestern in the semifinal put Penn State in the title game.
Offensive standout: The Nittany Lions have a trio of terrific players on the offensive side, but sophomore Maria Auth is especially important to the team’s attack because of her passing abilities in addition to her terrific scoring output. With 50 goals and 15 assists, Auth has a secure lead on the lead in points.
Defensive standout: Junior Kelly Daggett is one of the few bright spots on this defense. A year after scoring 15 goals in her second year with the team, Daggett has transitioned into a more defensive-focused player. She has just one goal this season, but she leads the team in caused turnovers and is a close second in ground balls with 24 and 29, respectively.
Top newcomer: Lucy Lowe has established herself as Penn State’s starting goalie despite being in her first season on campus, an impressive accomplishment. Her numbers haven’t been great, which is to be expected for a freshman goaltender. But a .429 save percentage is nothing to scoff at, and she’ll only get better as time goes on.
Strength: One of the things that the Nittany Lions do best is shoot with a purpose. They’re extremely efficient on offense, and that’s evident in their shooting percentage. The team ranks second in the conference with a .453 figure, and if that wasn’t enough, they are No. 20 in the country.
Weakness: Like Maryland, Penn State struggles in the category of ground balls. The Nittany Lions rank 105th with 15.17, while the Terps are No. 107 in the country with 14.89 per game. For Penn State, the talent level on defense isn’t at a high enough level to make up for this lack of ground balls, but it’s less of an exploitable weakness for Maryland since it struggles in that facet as well.
Postseason outlook: Thanks to a number of marquee wins, especially in its last game against Northwestern, Penn State’s resume is probably good enough to get an at-large bid. It doesn’t hurt that the team is ranked in the top-20 and has been for a large portion of the season. Either way, the Nittany Lions would prefer to leave all doubt aside and get the automatic qualifier by beating Maryland.
Preview vs. Maryland
Time: Sunday, May 6, noon ET
Previous meeting: On April 19, in the penultimate game of its regular season, Maryland silenced Penn State’s attack en route to a 13-8 victory.
How did Maryland win? It was the Megan Whittle show, as the senior tallied five goals in one of her best games of the season. But she wasn’t alone, as freshman Grace Griffin also had a five-point showing, scoring two goals and adding three assists.
What’s different? The first meeting between the two teams occurred just over two weeks ago, so little, if anything, will be different when they meet for the second time. The only discernible change is location: instead of Maryland being at home, this game will be played at a neutral location in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Prediction: Maryland wins, 14-10.