Maryland and excellence are two words that are indistinguishable when it comes to Division I women’s lacrosse.
Since head coach Cathy Reese took over in 2007, the Terps have gone on to win five national championships, finished as runner-ups in three other years and appeared in an additional three Final Fours.
Reese’s predecessor Cindy Timchal had won eight national titles in her 16 years in College Park, including seven straight from 1995-2001.
From one coach to the next, Maryland has hosted a dominant array of championship-level teams and has cemented itself as one of the all-time great programs in women’s lacrosse.
As the 2020 season rolled around, the top-ranked Terps looked towards continuing their prior success into the new decade. But just under a month into the regular season, Maryland has struggled to gain its footing, losing its last three games after a dominant season opener Feb. 8 against George Mason to fall to No. 15 in the Inside Lacrosse Top-20 poll.
The Terps are in uncharted territory. Maryland hadn’t lost more than two games in a season since 2012 and are already at three after four February games.
“Every game we’ve had a different piece that has come forward,” Reese said. “You don’t feel like your back is against the wall, you feel like we need to find a way to bring them together.”
Among those three losses came Maryland’s first home loss in 86-straight games by the hands of the Florida Gators and a crushing 13-goal defeat on the road in Chapel Hill against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
A two-game losing streak had never crossed into Reese’s resume at Maryland, so it came as a bit of a shock when the Terps dropped their third consecutive game to the then-No. 4 Syracuse on Feb. 29.
Whether it be the transition from a group of talented seniors to a group of unproven freshman or their inability to produce on multiple parts of the game consistently, the Terps have had a tough time staying on their feet in the early going.
Against Syracuse, Maryland’s defense played a solid game, limiting the Orange to ten goals — four of which scored within the final 15 minutes of the game.
For 45 minutes, the Terps were anchored by sophomore goalkeeper Maddie McSally, who made 13 saves. While freshman defender Emma Schettig earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for her play, contributing five ground balls and three caused turnovers.
As the defense kept the game within reach, the offense struggled to capitalize on free position opportunities, failing to effectively build momentum in the 10-5 loss.
“Obviously we haven’t scored as much as we usually have in the past couple of years,” senior attacker Kali Hartshorn said. “It’s just all communication and trusting each other.”
And the team’s drop has been highlighted by its woeful 12.75 turnovers per game mark.
Transitioning from defense to offense has been where the Terps have struggled the most, with Reese hoping her team can improve upon its clearing efficiency.
“We want to be 100 percent at clearing,” Reese said. “We need to step it up and have that attacking mentality.”
Despite the poor record, there continues to be a sense of optimism and calmness in the locker room, as the Terps have been dealt a difficult card in having faced three ranked opponents thus far.
“You can’t really get any momentum where you’re playing back on your heels and a little timid,” Reese said. “We need to use each opportunity that we have to compete as a chance to get better from where we were.”
The team’s mentality has not shifted now that they have entered the losing column thrice. Unfazed by the struggles, the tenacity to compete continues to be the overarching theme with the Terps.
The team takes each game as a learning experience as they prepare to build their chemistry and work towards achieving the pinnacle of collegiate lacrosse once again come May.
“We just want to keep improving and focus on us,” junior captain Grace Griffin said. “Just focus on one game at a time and just the moment ahead of us.”