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Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. Penn State Big Ten tournament preview

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A new season starts for the Terrapins on Friday.

Maryland women’s lacrosse Erica Evans vs. Michigan Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

No. 1-ranked Maryland women’s lacrosse (17-0, 6-0 Big Ten) will take on No. 25 Penn State (8-8, 3-3 Big Ten) on Friday to kick off the 2019 Big Ten tournament.

Both teams played against each other in the Big Ten final last season, as well as in the 2017 Final Four. In a road matchup at Penn State this march Cold and windy conditions took some getting used to, but Maryland ultimately came out victorious, 17-6.

“The competition that we’ve had with Penn State, there’s so much history,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We’ve played them in the national semifinal in ‘17, we’ve had [them] in the Big Ten tournament, there’s just a lot of history between the two programs.”

Maryland rolls into the postseason as the No. 1 team in the nation after North Carolina upset previously undefeated Boston College in the ACC championship game. The Terrapins control their own destiny as far as a No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed is concerned, as long as they win the Big Ten tournament.

The Terrapins start off tournament play against Penn State at 5 p.m. ET, while Northwestern and Michigan will face off at approximately 7:30 p.m., with the winners advancing to the championship game on Sunday. All games will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

What happened this season

The Terrapins finished the regular season with a 17-0 record, but not without some scares along the way. Tough road matchups against Northwestern and Georgetown helped break any complacency after coasting through the middle of the schedule. Playing just one game per week for almost the last month has allowed the Terrapins to refresh their minds and bodies in preparation for a postseason run.

Penn State lost star player Madison Carter just before the first matchup between these teams, but has been finding its identity as the season comes to a close. Senior midfielder Kayla Brisolari has been an all-around threat in 2019, leading the team with 66 draw controls while also scoring 30 goals and adding eight assists. If things do go down to the wire, her team-leading three game winning goals could be a sign of who may take the last shot. Junior Maria Auth (29 goals, 13 assists) and Sophia Triandafils (24 goals, 17 assists) have been weapons as well.

The Nittany Lions have played four games in the last two weeks, winning three of those matchups, including a road win against No. 21-ranked Johns Hopkins. Coming into the postseason hot is helpful, as Penn State will need a win or two this weekend to safely put itself in the NCAA Tournament field.

What happened last time

Maryland faced off against Penn State in late March and came away with a 17-6 road victory. The conditions in State College, PA, involved cold and rain, which took some adjusting to get used to. The Terrapins started off slow, but had a 7-4 lead at the half and used a 10-2 second half to pull away.

Grace Griffin led the way with four goals and one assist, while Caroline Steele and Kali Hartshorn both had hat tricks. Megan Taylor allowed six goals and tallied eight saves en route to her fourth of six Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week awards in a row.

Freshman goalie Taylor Suplee played nearly the entire matchup in March, giving up 16 goals but also tallying a season-high 16 saves. Suplee has split time down the stretch of this season with sophomore Lucy Lowe, but did play the entirety of the Nittany Lions’ victory against Johns Hopkins. Penn State could use either goalie against the Terps or even switch mid-game, which could take some getting used to.

Three things to watch

1. Confidence will be crucial moving into the postseason. The postseason is a new season, and Maryland needs to regain its dominant form from the middle of this season. Senior Megan Taylor brought up the ideal vision of a “perfect 60 minutes” earlier this season, but the team has had a few scares as of late against Northwestern and Georgetown. Dominating games from start to finish will instill confidence in the team and help develop a groove for this postseason.

“Whether you play ever minute of every game or don’t play very much, senior midfielder Jen Giles said, “just making sure that everyone is confident in each other and themselves, that’ll definitely help us going into this season.”

2. How will the Terrapins fare against a new-look Nittany Lions team? Maryland and Penn State have both come a long away from their matchup in late March. The Nittany Lions have become accustomed to playing without Madison Carter, who tore her ACL just before the previous matchup. Losing her production of 17 goals and four assists through six games was a shock, but Penn State has rolled into the postseason by winning three of their last four games, including a 16-15 defeat of No. 21-ranked Johns Hopkins on the road.

“I think they’re moving the ball well on offense, they’re attacking differently than they were the first time around, Reese said. “It’s almost a different look.”

3. Will Homewood Field create a home field advantage? Both the Big Ten tournament and NCAA Final Four will take place in Baltimore at the home of Johns Hopkins, allowing Maryland the luxury of never having to leave the state for the rest of this season no matter how far they go. Though the venue will be a change from the massive Maryland Stadium, having the ability to almost guarantee a home crowd could be what gives the Terrapins an edge.

“We can kind of make it our second little home,” sophomore midfielder Grace Griffin said. “We want to get used to playing there. We want to get used to [how] it’s going to be a big crowd in a small, little stadium, which we love. It’s like playing back at [the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex], we love that stadium, so I think everyone’s really excited.”