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Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. North Carolina preview

The Terrapins return home looking for their second top five win in a row.

NCAA Womens Lacrosse: National Championship Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland women’s lacrosse team faces off against North Carolina in a battle of the second- and third-ranked teams in the nation on Sunday.

Both teams are so even in the eyes of pollsters that Inside Lacrosse lists the Tar Heels second and Maryland third, while the IWLCA lists Maryland second and North Carolina third. The winner of Sunday’s matchup is destined to to take a stranglehold on a top-two spot and perhaps enter the mix with Boston College for the No. 1 ranking.

With the rankings aside, Maryland and North Carolina have always had a tough rivalry. “We’ve had close, exciting, games ever since I was a player,” head coach Cathy Reese said, “Whether they’re overtime, in the playoffs, the Final Four, national championship games ... these teams are both talented, they both have great players on offense, in the midfield and on defense, and it’s definitely good competition every time we get the chance to play.”

In the last three seasons, Maryland has a 2-1 record against the Tar Heels, with the loss coming during a 16-15 overtime battle in Chapel Hill last season. The last eight regular-season matchups between these programs have been decided by three goals or less, making this one of the most anticipated matchups in all of women’s lacrosse.

Sunday’s game starts at noon ET on BTN.

No. 2 North Carolina (3-0)

2018 record: 17-4, 6-1 ACC, NCAA Final Four

Head coach Jenny Levy is in her 24th season as the head coach of the Tar Heels and sports a 332-113 career record. She has brought two national titles to Chapel Hill and has been named National Coach of the Year twice during her tenure. Levy was also named head coach of the US National Team in 2017

Players to know

Sophomore attacker Jamie Ortega (No. 3) has been one of the hottest attackers in the country to start 2019, as she’s averaged five goals per game through three contests. The reigning ACC Freshman of the Year, who finished 2018 with 70 goals, will be the first individual test for this Maryland defense.

Junior attacker Katie Hoeg (No. 8) is the main compliment to all of Ortega’s scoring, as Hoeg has 14 assists through three games. She leads the team with 19 points so far this season, and has scored five goals on 10 shots this season. Cathy Reese was quick to mention the connection between Ortega and Hoeg as a key part of Carolina’s success, and Maryland will need to keep the duo at bay on Sunday for a chance to win.

Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Moreno (No. 30) has started all three matches for North Carolina this season and has a goals-against average of 6.4 heading into College Park. Her save percentage of .579 is 5 percent higher than Maryland’s counter Megan Taylor. With 22 saves on the season so far, the Terrapins will need to be on top of their game to get past Moreno.

Three things to watch

1. The draw control could be a turning point once again. Reese spoke before the Florida matchup about needing to get in front on the draw control, and her team did just that on its way to a gritty victory. She doubled down this week and mentioned the draw as a possible deciding factor due to the Tar Heels having won just over 72 percent of their draws this season. With the Terrapins only being successful on 61 percent of their draw controls through two games, a huge performance in the draw circle could go a long way in securing a victory.

2. How Maryland defends against Jamie Ortega. The North Carolina sophomore has scored 15 goals in three games this season, and shows no signs of slowing down. She netted a season-high six goals against High Point, and has eight more goals than anyone else on her team. Cathy Reese wasn’t shy to give her praise for the entire Tar Heel offense for their ability to be dangerous, saying: “The key for us is making sure we’re not locking up on one player.” Finding the balance of marking Ortega and staying true to the entire North Carolina attack will go a long way in keeping this one close.

3. Can Maryland create runs? A huge part of the Terps’ victory over Florida was their ability to dominate for portions of the game and stay out in front of the Gators. A five-goal run to start the game and a six-goal spurt early in the second half were the difference, and in a tough matchup against North Carolina, any chances to create separation will be key.