No. 4 Maryland women’s lacrosse’s 86-game win streak in College Park came to an end last weekend at the hands of the now-No. 3 Florida Gators, thanks to a game-winning goal from junior midfielder Shannon Kavanagh with 49 seconds remaining.
As a result, the Terps dropped to No. 4 in the latest Inside Lacrosse poll and will face a tall task in their upcoming road game against No. 1 North Carolina.
“When you go back and look at the game, that was obviously a game that we had plenty of opportunities to win,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We made a lot of mistakes and the good part about that is it’s a good opportunity for us to learn.”
Maryland is in unfamiliar territory coming off its first home loss since 2012. Coupling a difficult environment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with the Tar Heels’ skill on both ends of the field, and the Terps could run into trouble in their third game of the season.
The rivalry between the two schools has only elevated the significance of this game for the Terps, as they look to avoid dropping consecutive games for the first time in Reese’s tenure.
Saturday’s much-anticipated showdown starts at noon ET.
North Carolina Tar Heels (3-0, 0-0 ACC)
2019 record: 17-4, 5-2 ACC
Head coach Jenny Levy is entering season number 25 in Chapel Hill and boasts a feared lineup seeking its first championship since 2016, when it defeated the Terps. Levy ranks third in Division I history in career wins, all of which have been at North Carolina since its inaugural season in 1996.
North Carolina has been one of the top teams year in and year out, but has been eliminated in the Final Four the past two seasons. Last year, Maryland outlasted the Tar Heels in overtime on Feb. 24, and Levy will look to prepare her squad for some comeuppance.
Players to know
Senior attacker Katie Hoeg (No. 8) is one of three captains for the Tar Heels this year and has already cemented herself in North Carolina history. Hoeg holds the university record for assists in a career — 148 and counting — and most in a single season after she dished out 73 in 2019. The senior is off to a solid start this season, totaling 24 points for the nation’s fourth-best scoring offense.
Junior attacker Jamie Ortega (No. 3) is another catalyst of the Tar Heels who enters her junior season as the U.S. Lacrosse Magazine’s Preseason National Player of the Year. Ortega’s long list of accolades include 2019 First-Team All-American, 2019 ACC Tournament MVP and 2018 National Rookie of the Year. Ortega is a jack of all trades and currently has 14 goals in the early going of the season.
Junior goalkeeper Taylor Moreno (No. 30) has gotten better every season at UNC. She broke out in the latter half of her freshman campaign, posting double-digit saves in four of the final five games of the season, while also winning the 2018 ACC Tournament MVP. As a sophomore, Moreno continued to build her legacy, earning All-American status and being named First-Team All-ACC. Thus far in 2020, Moreno boasts a 73.9 save percentage and has only allowed six goals in her three victories.
A lot. There isn’t much that North Carolina can’t do at a high level.
To start, their defense is one of the top in the nation in the early going. The Tar Heels have only allowed 15 goals across their three wins thus far. Moreno has been solid in the cage as well, clearing 94.1 percent of balls entering the crease.
On offense, North Carolina boasts the fourth-best scoring offense, averaging 20.33 goals per game. The team also averages the most assists per game (13.33), while also securing a solid 15 draw controls per contest.
“If you talk about a plan for them, I think it’s a plan for their whole team,” Reese said. “They’re good all around, but they’re a hard team to defend because anybody on the field can score.”
Not much. The Tar Heels were in consideration to top the preseason rankings ahead of the 2020 season. That distinction was given to Maryland, but after last weekend’s loss, North Carolina finds itself in a position it believes it should have been in from the start.
With an average win margin of 15.33 goals, the Tar Heels present minimal weaknesses, if any. If anything were to be deemed a fault, it would be the team’s relatively weak schedule compared to its counterparts. Even that justification may be a stretch for the new No. 1 team as it look to hand the Terps their second loss.
Three things to watch
1. How will the defense regroup after Saturday’s loss? Maryland’s loss to Florida this past weekend left Terp fans puzzled with the team’s collective performance on defense. Against George Mason, the new look defense seemed poised in its first game working together. It was a different story against Florida, however, with the Terps struggling to find answers for the Gator onslaught en route to letting up 15 goals.
“There’s definitely some mistakes and some things that could have been avoided,” junior defender Laurie Bracey said. “We’ve definitely ramped up communication during practice this week … you’re always going to play together and I think that’s really what we’ve been looking forward to.”
With only one returning starter from last season, can the Terrapin defense bounce back from a tough showing and prove the doubters wrong against North Carolina?
2. Are the Terps polished enough for the tough road test? So much roster turnover has left Maryland searching for some direction. The Terps will have to piece together an improved system against North Carolina, and with its backs up against the wall, how will Maryland respond to the tough road match that lies ahead?
“[Hopefully we gained] confidence from the game,” Reese said. “Even though we lost, being that we can play a really good team … We have another chance on Saturday to get better than we were last weekend.”
3. Will the offense right the ship? For all intents and purposes, scoring 14 goals against a solid defense such as Florida can be deemed a solid output. However, the percentage of shots that found the back of the cage was a nightmare for the Terps. Cathy Reese didn’t shy away from admitting adjustments need to be made concerning the “insanely terrible” 8-meter shot percentage last weekend. Following the home loss, the offense huddled up to remind itself that there are greener pastures ahead.
“Focus on controlling the controllables and trusting each other and coming out confident,” junior midfielder Grace Griffin said.
The Terps will have to be sure not to squander any opportunities within the 8-meter threshold if they want to pull off the upset on the road.