BALTIMORE — With 2:41 remaining in the first half of Sunday’s NCAA women’s lacrosse championship game, Maryland needed a stop to keep an 8-4 lead heading into halftime. The Terrapins did just that, forcing a shot-clock violation as the Boston College offense couldn’t find space. Seniors Jen Giles and Megan Taylor let out passionate screams as they reclaimed momentum at the end of the half.
On the biggest stage in the sport, Maryland held one of the country’s most high-powered offenses in check to claim its 15th national championship. The Eagles’ 10 goals matched their lowest output of the season, while the Maryland defense showed the country exactly the kind of force it had been all season long.
“I think this was probably our best defensive game we’ve had this season when you know and understand the firepower that Boston College has,” Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said after the game.
The Terrapins came into Sunday’s championship ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 8.09 goals per game, while also playing at least two more games than any other team in the top 21. Maryland managed to hold six teams to five goals or fewer this season, including two one-goal outputs, as well as holding 16 of its 23 opponents to 10 goals or less.
In the Big Ten championship game three weekends ago, Northwestern scored 16 goals, the most any team put up against Maryland in 2019, and gave the Terps their only loss of the campaign. The team used that game as fuel and came out firing on all cylinders in the NCAA Tournament. Back-to-back 17-8 wins over Stony Brook and Denver in College Park led the Terrapins to an 11th consecutive Final Four, where they let in just 23 goals across two games, the same amount that the team gave up in 2017 when it won Maryland’s last national championship.
Taylor, the senior goalie who won NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, praised assistant coach Lauri Kenis and her preparation for this championship game, mentioning she probably had no sleep putting it together. The Eagles knocked Maryland out in the national semifinal last year, and that experience and film played a role in putting the finishing touches on the defensive plan.
“There was a couple questions I had for Kenis, so we actually ended up watching a couple of the plays last year,” Taylor noted. “And it was funny because I was watching it, I was like, ‘Ugh.’ I think everyone on our team has gotten so much better.’”
She went on to praise defenders Shelby Mercer, Julia Braig and Lizzie Colson for the jobs they did in locking down some of the greatest offensive players in college lacrosse, and also clearing out 23 of 24 chances.
“Maryland has a very strong defense,” Boston College senior attacker Sam Apuzzo said. “They stay in, they like to play one v. one defense ... it was harder to get [inside]. Yeah, Megan Taylor is an awesome goalie too. They were prepared.”
That one-on-one defense was an interesting move by Maryland, given the competition the Terrapins were up against. Many teams that have faced Apuzzo, Dempsey Arsenault and Kenzie Kent have gone out of their way to face-guard and try to force the ball to other players, but the Terrapins played them all at face value. Kenis and Reese had enough trust in this team and defensive unit to be able to keep the attack at bay while utilizing slides and switches.
Apuzzo finished with a hat trick but saw limited touches all game. Arsenault scored and assisted once, and while Kent netted five goals and one assist, including the final two goals that made the Terrapins’ lead become a bit more fragile, the rest of the Boston College offense couldn’t keep up.
With 2:13 remaining in the game, Colson was shown a yellow card for a check to the head of a Boston College player during one of the toughest rides the Terrapins gave the Eagles all afternoon. Kent, who had just scored two goals in 25 seconds to cut the lead in half, tried to make a move to the side of the cage as the Maryland defense clogged the middle. But Meghan Doherty took the charge that gave Maryland the ball to run out the clock.
This win against Boston College captured the essence of what Maryland’s defense meant to this team in 2019. The Terps were successful in doubling and sliding when it mattered most. They clogged the middle and forced turnovers when possible. And when all else failed, they had Megan Taylor standing between any shooter and the goal, which is a battle Maryland is willing to take any day.
“I think the key is confidence,” Reese said. “When you’re confident in what you’re doing, prepared for what you’re doing, you’re willing to take chances and risks because you have people playing next to you that will have your back. Lauri Kenis has done an amazing job with this defensive group and we’ve grown throughout the season to play our best game today.”