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Weekend preview: No. 10 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs. No. 17 Michigan

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The Terps will look to rebound with two matches at home after an upset loss to Penn State on Sunday.

2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship - Quarterfinals Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

No. 10 Maryland women’s lacrosse took a step in the wrong direction to start its 2021 season against then-No. 21 Penn State, losing 15-13 on Sunday afternoon. It was the Terps’ first Big Ten regular-season loss since joining the conference.

“We could probably make 100 excuses, but at the end of the day Penn State out-executed us,” head coach Cathy Reese said.

The upset dropped the Terps to 0-1 on the year, the first time Reese has been in that position since arriving in College Park. But the experienced leader of the Terrapins is confident in her team’s ability to rebound.

“Seeing our areas that we struggled in this past weekend ... everyone’s aware, we see it,” Reese said. “We know what we’re capable of, we know what we need to do, now we need to be mentally tough enough to execute.”

Next up, the Terps play another ranked opponent in the up-and-coming No. 17 Michigan Wolverines. Both Maryland and Michigan suffered upset losses last weekend and both teams will be searching for a huge bounce-back — and they’ll get two chances.

Friday (4 p.m.) and Sunday’s (noon) games will be held at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park and will be broadcast on BTN+.

No. 17 Michigan Wolverines (0-1 Big Ten)

2020 record: 5-1

Head coach Hannah Nielsen, a two-time Tewaaraton Award winner at Northwestern, is in her fourth year with a program that is still in its infancy. The four-time national champion took charge in just Michigan’s fifth season, and has catapulted the team to new heights. Prior to Nielsen taking over, the Wolverines struggled to a 20-49 overall record. In just three years — including a six-game, COVID-19 shortened 2020 season — she has gone 28-16. In 2019, Nielsen led Michigan to a 16-4 record (the program’s first winning season) and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, another program first.

Players to know

Graduate student midfielder Molly Garrett (No. 23) — Like Brindi Griffin, Garrett returned for a fifth year following the cancellation of the 2020 season. In the six games Michigan was able to play before the season ended, Garrett scored 11 goals, good for third on the team. As a leader on the midfield, Garrett’s main claim to fame is her ability on the draws. She has led the Wolverines the past three years in draw controls with 50, 65 and 26, respectively.

Senior attacker Caitlin Muir (No. 1) — Muir was a unanimous All-Big Ten selection in her last full season in 2019 after leading the team in points (59) and assists (21). Those numbers for the then-sophomore became single season program highs. Muir has started her senior campaign strong, scoring four points against Ohio State last weekend as well as compiling three ground balls.

Senior midfielder Maggie Kane (No. 9) — After starting all 20 games for the Wolverines in 2019, Kane was poised for a major breakout season in 2020 as she was named a Preseason Big Ten Player to Watch. She still made an impact with 14 points in the six-game season, which placed second on the team, but 2021 looks to be the senior’s true breakout. Kane scored twice in the first game of the spring while also finding herself at the free position five times in the match.

Strength

Limiting turnovers. Managing the offense will be crucial against a Maryland team that loves to put the pedal to the metal, and the Wolverines have showcased poise on exchanges. Michigan only turned the ball over 10 times to Ohio State’s 16 in the opener. Despite the loss, Michigan maintained a decent tempo on offense by not giving up the ball, leading to 32 shots, which tied the Buckeyes. Maryland’s defense has gone through a few changes over the past year, and if Michigan can keep the pressure on the Terps by not giving chances away, this game could come down to the wire.

Weakness

Draw controls. In the upset loss to Ohio State, Michigan was outmatched on the draws. Molly Garrett, who has led the team the past three years in the category, was only able to compile two last time out. That mark tied the team high and added to a dismal total of seven on the day; Ohio State had 22. Maryland has started the young season strong on draw controls, so the Terps could have a chance to dominate time of possession.

Three things to watch

1. Will Maryland’s offense come alive early? Maryland struggled last weekend in multiple categories, but the biggest obstacle the Terps were forced to mount was the deficit they dug themselves in in the first half. Maryland’s offense really struggled to get going in the opening half, scoring only four goals on 17 shots — five of which were free positions. The Terps will be looking for a spark in the first half this time around, which could prove to be a difference-maker.

“We’re just going through and getting back to our roots,” sophomore attacker Hannah Leubecker said. “We weren’t all on the same page, so definitely making sure we’re working together and just putting in place what we’ve been practicing.”

2. Can improved defensive communication shut down the Michigan attack? In each team’s season opener, Michigan struggled on offense, while Maryland struggled on defense. One has got to give, and captain Lizzie Colson is confident in the defense’s rebound after a rough go around against Penn State with communication.

“We’re just a very young program just learning how to play with each other,” Colson said. “I think we’re just learning how to gel and it’s getting better every single day.”

The Terps let up plenty of goals against Penn State off wide-open cuts down the seams of the defense. If the Terps can pinch on the inside and force Michigan to the outside, Maryland can dictate the scoreboard.

3. One game at a time. Maryland will play Michigan twice this weekend, a rare sighting in the regular season. The Big Ten schedule for Maryland works that way twice more this season, against No. 19 Ohio State and No. 4 Northwestern. Game planning for two games in three days may be a tall task, but Reese is focused on taking it game by game.

“All we’re focusing on is Friday,” Reese said. “Let’s not talk about playing them twice. Let’s not talk about changes we’re gonna make. Let’s not talk about changes they’re gonna make. Let’s focus on us.”