Top-seeded Maryland women’s lacrosse will continue its postseason run Friday as it faces Northwestern in the national semifinals at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
This will be the third time that these two Big Ten opponents will face off this season, with each team taking one game. In fact, both Final Four matchups are simply rematches of conference championship games. Northwestern took down Maryland 16-11 for the Big Ten title, while North Carolina upset Boston College 15-13 in the ACC championship.
This marks the second consecutive Final Four where the top four teams all advanced to championship weekend. Whichever team comes out on top will truly have earned the distinction this season.
The Final Four begins Friday with Boston College vs. North Carolina at 5 p.m. ET, and Maryland vs. Northwestern following the conclusion of that game, at approximately 7:30 p.m. ET. Both games will be broadcast on ESPNews and live streamed on ESPN3.
What happened last time
In the Big Ten championship game, Northwestern simply ran right through Maryland and won 16-11. The Wildcats jumped out to a 10-4 lead by halftime, and the Terrapins simply could not fight back. Tewaaraton finalist Selena Lasota scored four goals, and Izzy Scane added four of her own, making the Northwestern attack even more deadly. The Northwestern team has also rallied around the pesky pigeon that was present on the field last time around, which certainly could be used as motivation for the Terps.
What’s happened since
Due to Denver’s upset of No. 8-seed Michigan in the second round, Maryland comes in as the only Final Four team that has not faced another seeded opponent. In the second round, the Terrapins overcame a 4-0 deficit against Stony Brook to come up with a 17-8 win. They replicated the 17-8 scoreline against Denver last weekend, but did so in a more dominant fashion, scoring eight goals in a row toward the end of the first half.
Northwestern has had a pair of rather close games, but arrives in Baltimore unscathed. The Wildcats took down Notre Dame 13-10 and No. 5-seed Syracuse 18-14 thanks to strong first halves. In both games, the opposing teams mounted a semblance of a comeback, but never really came within striking distance.
Three things to watch
1. How will Maryland answer the Northwestern defense? Last time out, the Wildcats utilized face guards on Jen Giles, but opponents have also pressed other players on the Maryland offense. Finding a way to battle through those matchups or having other players step up will be crucial.
“Northwestern is a really talented team and they’re so powerful offensively and they’ve got a really tough defense. I said this after the [Big Ten championship], ‘You can’t beat a team like that when you make too many mistakes.’ We didn’t play our best,” Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said. “So yes, face guards are part of the game; that’s fine and it is what it is. We’ve seen that throughout this season and we found ways to counteract that, but we need to again execute the little things and make sure that we’re doing the little things, which will ultimately hopefully lead to better plays.”
2. Seniors will be the key for the Terrapins. This year’s senior class has been to the Final Four in each of its previous three seasons, and the leadership from that group will be important. North Carolina is the only other Final Four team to have won a championship in the last three years, but has not reached a championship game since that 2016 season. This prior experience will provide key depth for the rest of the Maryland team.
“Our senior class is phenomenal,” redshirt junior defender Meghan Dougherty said. “They’re such a talented group, absolutely incredible. We threats on defense, on offense, in the midfield, all over, and coming into our Final Four I know we’re all so excited to be out here and we can’t wait to attack on Friday. I have a really good feeling about people stepping up and making things happen and it’s just going to be a really good energy.”
3. Will a home-field advantage be in play for Maryland? The Big Ten tournament had a rather modest crowd, but the NCAA Tournament should liven up Homewood Field for this Final Four. Maryland fans will have the chance to make an impact with by far the shortest travel distance of any Final Four team’s fan base.
“It’s super exciting,” Giles said about playing close to home. “In the past three years we’ve been all over, so to just have to travel down the road is super exciting, and we’re excited to work off the energy of the crowd and everything that everyone there supporting us and other teams. It’s just going to be crazy.”