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No. 8 Maryland women’s lacrosse vs Johns Hopkins preview

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After 12 days off, the Terps will head to Baltimore to take on Johns Hopkins.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

An impressive weekend sweep of Michigan has brought the No. 8 Maryland women’s lacrosse team over .500. After 12 days off, head coach Cathy Reese and company will make a pivot to Baltimore to go up against Johns Hopkins on Friday.

“It was a good opportunity to reset after playing two games in a week,” Brindi Griffin said. “Our bodies had time to recover both physically and mentally ... [We’re] getting better each day and we’re really excited to play them.”

A pair of much needed wins against the Wolverines was spearheaded by a career-high seven goals from sophomore Hannah Leubecker in the opening leg. The second half was played in constant rain, and despite multiple scoreless droughts from the Terps, they were able to edge the opposition to complete the sweep.

Maryland will hit the road for this one, which will air on BTN Plus at 3 p.m.

Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (2-3)

Head coach Janine Tucker is the all-time winningest coach in Johns Hopkins history, having coached the Blue Jays since 1994. Although she has never captured an NCAA Division I title, Tucker guided the program’s transition from D-III to D-I with ease. Each step of the way, Tucker has elevated the Blue Jays to new marks. Three Final Four berths in her first five years was followed by one victory (two additional appearances) in the ECAC Division I championship. Since joining the Big Ten, Tucker has led the Blue Jays to its 11th and 12th NCAA tournament appearances with 37 total wins.

Players to know

The Terps have strong connections to the Blue Jays roster, most notably between Griffin and her cousin Alex Miller, a sophomore midfielder for Johns Hopkins. A lot of the matchups this week will be between players that have seen what each other are capable of, but to sophomore Emily Sterling, that doesn’t add any extra incentives to the outcome of this game.

“Every game of the season means something different than it did in years past,” Sterling said. “It’s cool we get to play against a lot of girls we know, but I feel like we know girls everywhere. So I wouldn’t say it’s anything extra, but we are really excited.”

Senior attacker Aurora Cordingley (No. 45) — Cordingley has been a stat stuffer her entire career at Johns Hopkins and that moniker has continued into the 2021 season. She leads the team in goals (10) as well as assists (7).The senior also has been a solid presence in other categories, as expected, totaling seven ground balls and six caused turnovers — both top-five on the team.

Graduate student Mackenzie Heldberg (No. 43) — After a breakout sophomore season that saw Heldberg lead the team and place eighth in the Big Ten in goals (41), the 2018 All-Big Ten tournament team member has not played more than 10 games in a season since. Her junior season was cut short after nine games due to injury, then the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season limited her return to just seven matches. Now, Heldberg’s comeback tour has been off to a solid start, placing second on the team with nine goals on a .563 shot percentage — also a team-high.

Senior defender Trinity McPherson (No. 29) — Another impact senior for the Blue Jays is its defensive anchor McPherson. She too failed to capitalize on an impressive 2018 season that saw the then-sophomore start all 19 games and force 20 turnovers on the year. McPherson played just one game in 2019 before returning to the field last season with 11 ground balls and six caused turnovers. Trinity has been efficient thus far, totaling 12 ground balls and nine caused turnovers. Her younger sister Madison has also been a steady presence for the Blue Jays’ defense.

Strength

Causing turnovers and collecting loose balls. The aforementioned McPherson leads a defense that, despite ceding a conference-high 13.6 goals per game, is one of the more efficient in forcing turnovers and scooping up loose balls. Johns Hopkins’ 18.4 ground ball per game average and its 10.6 caused turnovers rate are good for the first and second in the Big Ten, respectively. Trinity and Madison McPherson have been an impressive tandem in both departments, but its junior Annika Meyer who has been the main catalyst. Meyer leads the team with 16 ground balls and is second in caused turnovers with seven.

Weakness

Efficient offense. Johns Hopkins has been a struggle to watch on the offensive side. While there are five players with at least five goals, the offense has produced a conference-worst 9.8 goals per game. Efficient shooting stats may have something to do with this alarming average, as the team is bottom-two in the Big Ten in both shot percentage (.383) and SOG per game (16.6).

Three things to watch

1. Will Maryland’s offense avoid detrimental valleys? The first part of Maryland’s weekend series against Michigan saw the Terps emerge victorious, but they let the Wolverines back into the match due to scoring just two goals in the final half of the second half. A pair of more extended droughts on Feb. 28 — a 17:21-long scoring outage in the first half and a 15:03 one to end the match — were cause for concern in an otherwise successful weekend.

Maryland’s offense is one of the top in the conference, slotting at third in the goals per game category (14), but in order to compete as the season goes on, the Terps will have to avoid massive scoring droughts such as against Michigan.

2. Can Maryland improve on its free position conversion rate? There’s a lot that goes into producing a successful offense, one that Maryland has shown off in the past week. While the assist totals have been down (albeit, according to Reese, a result of incredible dodging abilities from the attackers), shooting at the free position has been the primary sore spot on Maryland’s offense.

“They can make or break games,” Reese said.

The Terps have gone 14-29 on the free position, good for a .483 conversion rate, a solid mark by most standards. Reese, however, wants more confidence out of her team’s gimme chances.

“For us, free positions need to be repetition,” she added. “You step up to the line and there’s not a question of whether you’ll make it, it’s you’re confident that you’re going to make it.”

3. Who will be the breakout player this week? Against Penn State, it was Libby May who shined. Versus Michigan, Leubecker broke out in the first match, while Grace Griffin led the offense in a rainy second half. Who’s next this week against Johns Hopkins? Despite the emergence of a star on the offensive end each game, the collective team effort is the focal point of Maryland’s game plan, and that doesn’t change heading into Friday’s in-state showdown.

“That’s our job as an offense. We want to score a lot of goals and we don’t care who does it,” Reese said. “I think that’s one of the things that really is just special about our teams here at Maryland. They’re all bought in and they want to see each other do well.”