After a confusing skirmish led to a turnover by her team, the fiery presence of Hannah Leubecker thwarted a clear attempt from Michigan.
Corralling the ball in her stick, the sophomore attacker sprinted onto the offensive end sandwiched between two lingering defenders and the goalkeeper. Leubecker was cut off on her right side and changed course mid-breakaway, firing in a cross-hand shot to push Maryland women’s lacrosse’s first half lead to three.
A minute later, Leubecker finished on her fourth goal of the half, tying her career total and giving the Terps a four-point lead that they never looked back on in the 17-13 victory Friday afternoon.
“Hannah was a superstar. She did what she was capable of,” senior midfielder Grace Griffin said. “I love how hard she went, and that’s what you want from everyone.”
Maryland struggled to score in the first half last weekend, only scoring four goals on 17 shots, but that narrative was flipped on its head Friday as the Terps converted on 50 percent of their shots in the first half, including 15 shots on goal.
Leubecker was the star in critical moments as Maryland hoped to rebound after a frustrating loss to Penn State last week.
Combining flawless defense and a persistent attack in the early going, Brindi Griffin rifled in the first goal of the afternoon. Hannah Warther followed two minutes after with a free position goal, giving Maryland a 2-0 advantage.
Maryland couldn’t hold off the Wolverine offense much longer, however, as a 3-0 run in roughly a minute and a half — accompanied by two free position goals — catapulted Michigan out to a 3-2 lead.
A six minute scoring drought from the Terps was upended by a goal from Catie May, her third on the year. After Leubecker scored to break the 3-3 tie, May took another opportunity and ran with it, pushing the lead back up to two.
After turning it over on a shot clock violation and subsequently ceding a goal to fifth year Molly Garrett, Leubecker responded with her second goal, ending her team’s five minute scoring drought as she once again came up clutch for the Terps.
“I just want to be able to contribute in any way I can,” Leubecker said. “That’s kind of the attitude that everybody has. Whatever we need to do to win and [scoring] was my role in that.”
The hits just kept on coming, as Leubecker sealed the first half hat trick on a cut down the left hand side before adding a fourth goal to extend the halftime score to 10-6.
The improved offensive showing in the opening half was a welcome sign for a Terrapins squad that stumbled to a conference low .342 shot percentage in the season opener, including a ghastly .235 shot percentage in the first 30 minutes.
Michigan instantly responded out of the intermission, with Caitlin Muir finishing on a double move just 41 seconds in. But Leubecker was the one to answer right back once again, scoring her fifth goal to give Maryland the 11-7 lead. She scored the next goal a little over four minutes into the half, this time on a free position opportunity.
But Michigan was able to prevent digging themselves into a further hole by taking advantage of Emily Sterling leaving the box and scoring on a wide open net. The Terps gave way to a 3-1 run by the Wolverines, which cut the deficit to as little as three as the second half approached a third of the way through.
Libby May was the one to stop the Michigan stronghold as she made a quick cutback and fired the ball in for the score via an assist from Brindi Griffin from behind the net.
Warther capitalized on her second free position opportunity with her second goal of the game, extending Maryland’s lead to five as the match progressed into the latter half. The back and forth continued, with Garrett scoring on a free position of her own following a yellow card on Kylie Davis.
Maryland couldn’t cut off Michigan’s momentum following the hard foul by Davis, as a Tori Barretta turnover led to a fast break score from Nadine Stewart, her third of the game.
As the Terps began to reel following a two goal stretch by the Wolverines, Leubecker silenced Michigan once again, firing in her seventh goal on the free position to bring Maryland’s lead back up to four with just over 12 minutes remaining. Her seven goals are the most for a Terp in a match since Caroline Steele on May 18, 2019 against Denver in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Warther answered with another goal following Stewart’s fourth, securing her own hat trick as the Terps defense held on to earn its first victory of the season.
“We’re seeing improvement from last time and we still have a long ways to go and lot of room to grow,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We just need to reset, refocus, hopefully make some little changes and come back and minimize our mistakes little bit more.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland continues to get offense from its young guns. Last week Libby May was the standout youngster for the Terps, scoring a team-high four goals to go with her six point total. On Friday, it was Hannah Leubecker’s turn to take the spotlight for not just the underclassmen, but the Maryland offense as a whole.
While expected offensive stars Brindi Griffin and Hannah Warther have not built as strongly on their 2020 numbers as hoped for in the early going of 2021, Maryland’s younger studs have taken center stage as the story of the season thus far.
“This group has done it all,” Reese said pertaining to the team’s veteran leadership and crop of inexperienced starters. “We need to step us as leaders and really bring up the players around us.”
2. The defense made bigger strides. After last week’s disappointing loss, Maryland had a lot of areas to improve upon heading into the home opener. One of those was addressing communication issues on a new-look defensive front. Laurie Bracey was a big reason for the shift as she was a thorn in Michigan’s side all game, forcing a team-high three turnovers to go along with nine total. Lizzie Colson added two of her own, being a vocal leader on the field and helping the Terps find their rhythm on the defensive side.
3. It was a chippy Big Ten showdown. In total, this game saw 49 fouls occur. Each team was dealt a green and yellow card as well. It just adds to the heat of the moment idea of Big Ten play exclusivity.
“Everyone wants to go hard and sometimes that means that people get a little bit chippy, but you can’t let that get to you and you just have to keep playing through it,” Grace Griffin said.
This match featured a ton of phenomenal plays on both ends, but something that may stick with both teams come Sunday could be the aggressive nature of this evening’s feisty showdown between two of the top teams in the conference.