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Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. Denver NCAA quarterfinals preview

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The Terrapins face the toughest defense in the country on Saturday night.

Maryland women’s lacrosse Kali Hartshorn vs. Michigan Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

Top-seeded Maryland women’s lacrosse will face another tough test as Denver visits College Park on Saturday night.

While the Terrapins got past Stony Brook last weekend, the Pioneers upset No. 8-seed Michigan to advance to the quarterfinals. They are the only unseeded team left in the women’s tournament (Maryland is the last unseeded team on the men’s side).

Last season, these teams squared off in the NCAA second round, with Maryland claiming the 15-4 victory. Megan Whittle, who scored six goals in that game, won’t be there this time around, but Maryland will surely be able to find offense just as it has all season.

Maryland will need to reverse its trend of coming out slow if the Terrapins want a chance to build positive momentum and move forward this post season. The Terps will be looking to breakdown the game into micro-plays, focusing on each draw, each pass and each shot defended rather than the bigger picture. If Megan Taylor can come alive from the start, Maryland should be in good shape against Denver.

Opening draw is set for 7 p.m. ET at Maryland Stadium and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

Denver Pioneers (16-3, 5-0 Big East)

2018 record: 13-7, 6-3 Big East, NCAA second round

Head coach Liza Kelly is in her 13th season leading the Denver program, which is starting to gain national traction. She has led the Pioneers to all four of their NCAA Tournament appearances, including back-to-back bids after not being selected since 2014.

Defense has become a staple for the Denver program, as its efficiency numbers have gotten better each season, all the way up to having the best defense in the nation this year. The Pioneers have also begun climbing the ranks nationally, ending 2018 with the 16th-best RPI and bumping up to 13th this season.

Players to know

Sophomore attack Quintin Hoch-Bullen (No. 2) has begun to earn minutes as a starter during this 2019 campaign, and has done well with her opportunities. The Ontario native has tallied 57 goals and 12 assists while maintaining a .508 shooting percentage. Last year against Maryland, Hoch-Bullen scored one goal and had one assist in limited minutes, but in her last game against Michigan, she managed to score five goals despite not starting.

Junior goalie Carson Gregg (No. 35), has started all 19 games this season for Denver, despite the Pioneers splitting lots of time between their goalkeepers. Gregg has saved shots at a rate of 46.4 percent this season, and allows an average of 7.22 goals against. She will also be having a second homecoming of sorts, as the Severna Park native also started the second-round matchup last season, coming up with nine saves.

Three things to watch

1. What will the answer be for the nation’s toughest defense? Denver comes in with the top scoring defense in the country, allowing just 6.79 goals per game. The Pioneers play a zone, which frustrated the Terrapins early against Stony Brook. Look for a variation of shot angles, as well as fluid passing, as the Terps hope to pick up where they left off last time out.

“Denver’s goalie is great so [varying shot angles] is something we’re going to need to do,” junior attack Brindi Griffin said Tuesday. “Looking to assist the ball a lot and seeing that on the field, it’s so fun when we get to do that against the zone.”

2. How big of a factor can the crowd be? This will be the final home game of the season, but also the last game for the women’s lacrosse team in Maryland Stadium this year. The capacity increase, along with doubleheader events with the men’s lacrosse team, has drawn in some big crowds, which is a different feel for the team and, frankly, most of its opponents as well.

“It’s been really, really exciting,” sophomore midfielder Grace Griffin said about playing at Maryland Stadium this season. “I think going into this year I was kind of sad about leaving [the complex]—like, it’s such a small complex and the AstroTurf is really fun to play on—but being here and being surrounded by the football and the big stadium and having doubleheaders with the guys has been really, really exciting. I think it’s brought us together, not even as just a team, as a university and as a whole athletic program.”

3. Nothing will be easy. Maryland has had some tough quarterfinal matchups in the last two seasons, beating Navy and Stony Brook 15-13 and 13-12 respectively. Despite holding the top overall seed, the path for Maryland almost routinely becomes difficult at this point of the NCAA Tournament, but that is to be expected.

“There’s eight teams left playing,” head coach Cathy Reese simply put it about this time of the season. “I think each team, when you’re in this spot, you’re fighting for your life. You’re fighting for another chance to move on, and so nothing’s easy.”