After a nearly-perfect regular season that resulted in a No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland women’s lacrosse easily disposed of everyone in its path to win another conference championship.
After dominating Johns Hopkins in Friday’s semifinal, the Terps eviscerated Penn State, 21-12, to take home the hardware.
Megan Whittle put on a performance for the ages. Not only did she break her career high in goals with eight on just 12 shots, but she’s also just one behind Gail Cummings for second-best in NCAA history.
Ironically, this showing came right after one of her worst performances of the year. She needed to bounce back and play to her usual level to take home the conference title, and she exceeded expectations in a big way.
Outside of Whittle, Kali Hartshorn continued to prove to be an X-factor with yet another hat trick in her sophomore season. She now has 30 goals on the season, an impressive milestone for the midfielder. Perhaps even more absurd were her 16 draw controls, nearly more than all other players combined. Jen Giles also had two goals to go along with three assists, playing a huge part in facilitating the offense.
The championship game started just as Friday’s had, with Penn State scoring first less than a minute into the contest. It was points-leader Maria Auth who put the Nittany Lions on the board to kick things off.
But just as they did against Johns Hopkins, the Terps used that early deficit as fuel to go on a run. After struggling mightily in the past two games, Whittle started her dominant performance off by tying the score at the 25:42 mark. In a 63-second span, junior Jen Giles delivered two perfect passes to get Maryland out in front. The first was a beautiful feed inside to Meghan Siverson, and she followed that up by finding Taylor Hensh to make it three unanswered goals.
The Nittany Lions still had some fight in them, and that was evident in the 90 seconds that followed. Madison Carter, who entered Sunday fresh off a six-goal showing against Northwestern, converted on a free-position opportunity. Just 27 seconds later, a goal from Shelby Wells tied the score at three.
But Whittle scored two in a row to kick off a Terps’ run that would put the game away early. With the score at 5-3, Caroline Steele delivered with her first goal of the game. The Terps then received back-to-back free-position shots, and Giles and Steele converted to extend the lead to five.
The Nittany Lions got one back from Carter, but the Terps closed out the half on a scoring run like they’ve done so many times this year. On a feed from Steele, Kali Hartshorn scored to get her name in the box score. Whittle followed with her fourth goal of the game, giving the senior 70 this year. Siverson made sure to end the half on an even better note, as her goal gave Maryland an 11-4 advantage heading into the break.
Maggie Gallagher did her best to bring Penn State back into contention early in the second half. She had two goals right out of the gate, but Whittle answered with her fifth of the game. Gallagher scored almost immediately to get a hat trick and cut the score to 12-7, but then history happened.
Whittle scored three in a row, all in span of six minutes. The first came on a free-position shot, which is the senior’s trademark. The next two were Nos. 73 and 74 on the season, inching closer and closer to 2016’s mark of 76. Goals were traded back and forth over the next six minutes, and the score was 18-11 with 9:39 to go following Carter’s fourth and fifth goals of the game.
Penn State decided to faceguard Whittle for the rest of the game, and she didn’t force anything in pursuit of records. With her neutralized, the offense opened up and continued adding to the lead, ensuring the Big Ten Championship Game would end in a blowout.
Three things to know
1. Megan Whittle is back and in a big way. There was little doubt that the senior would turn it on eventually, but the last two games were still disconcerting. But in the biggest game of the year so far, Whittle had her best performance of the season. Eight goals on just 12 shots allowed her to nearly outscore the Nittany Lions by herself, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Maryland.
2. Megan Taylor’s struggles didn’t matter. Whittle and the offense were the biggest story of the game, Taylor and the defense had a tough time, especially in the second half. Holding the Nittany Lions to 11 goals was impressive, but they scored on a very high percentage of opportunities. Taylor had just seven stops for a save percentage of .368 as the junior keeps regressing.
3. The No. 1 overall seed is almost a certainty. Sunday’s win marked the third straight Big Ten tournament championship for Maryland, giving the Terps an automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament (as if they needed it). With Boston College’s undefeated record disappearing over the weekend, the No. 1 seed is more likely than not. Stony Brook remains the last undefeated team, but its RPI isn’t as high due to a weaker schedule. The selection show at 9 p.m. ET on NCAA.com will settle the debate for good.