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No. 10 Maryland women’s lacrosse series preview: Ohio State

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The Terps broke a sweat in their overtime victory against Johns Hopkins. They take on the Buckeyes next.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

An overtime nail-biter last weekend against Johns Hopkins kept the No. 10 Maryland women’s lacrosse team’s win streak alive. Attacker Hannah Leubecker was the hero in extra time, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Terps from dropping two spots in the Inside Lacrosse poll.

“For them to find a way to win, I think it’s something we really need to celebrate,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We’re going to talk about that a lot as we go through the season of just being able to put your foot down and try to create some space to pull away.”

Now at 3-1, Maryland will turn its attention to the Ohio State Buckeyes for a pair of home games. The Buckeyes have been off for nearly two weeks after losing both meetings against the same Hopkins team Maryland just faced.

Maryland will look to extend its win streak to four on Thursday at 4 p.m. The second leg will be played on Saturday at noon. Both matches can be watched on BTN Plus.

Ohio State Buckeyes (1-5 Big Ten)

Head coach Amy Bokker has an excellent track record of elevating programs to new heights. Her first season at American University had the Eagles put together a school-best 8-8 record. Bokker then headed to George Mason, where she led the Patriots to six top-20 finishes in the final polls. Her most recent gig was spending 11 seasons coaching the Stanford Cardinal. She guided the Cardinal to eight NCAA Tournament appearances after just one prior.

Bokker’s current project is with the Buckeyes, who went 5-4 in her first year before the coronavirus shutdown. Thus far in her second year at the helm, Ohio State has stumbled to a 1-5 record, with their lone win being on Feb. 21 against Michigan. Excluding a blowout loss to Northwestern, however, Ohio State has lost its other four matches by a combined six goals.

Players to know

Graduate student attacker Liza Hernandez (No. 12) — Hernandez is one of the three Buckeye standouts returning for a fifth year following last season’s cancellation. Hernandez was recently named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List and her stats back up that nomination. She is one of the top goal scorers in the conference, placing fifth in the Big Ten with a 3.33 goals per game average, but she is also one of the better all-around players in the conference. She is top-10 in draw controls per game (3.33) and leads the Buckeyes with 20, while also chipping in nine ground balls and five forced turnovers.

Graduate student goalkeeper Jillian Rizzo (No. 1) — Another standout fifth year is starting goalkeeper Rizzo, who has built a legacy in Columbus as the program’s all-time career saves leader. The three-time captain has been dominant in the saves department on a national scale in past years, placing eighth during her sophomore year, 10th in 2019 and second in the shortened 2020 season. This year, Rizzo’s numbers have taken a bit of a hit thanks to allowing 13.04 goals per game, but she is tied for second in the conference in save percentage (.425) and is second outright in saves per game (9).

Graduate student midfielder Kelsey Reed (No. 29) — Reed is returning for a fifth year as well, but it’s not to a familiar crowd, as the standout midfielder spent her undergraduate career with the James Madison Dukes. A national champion from 2018, Reed was a late bloomer with the Dukes but eventually put together a solid resume. Her move to the Big Ten has been impressive and she ranks in the top-10 of both ground balls per game (2) and draw controls per game (3) in the conference.

Strength

Saves. Rizzo ceded 17 goals and made just two saves in a lopsided 23-7 loss to Northwestern on Feb. 14 before giving way to freshman Regan Alexander. That performance inflated the starter’s stats on the season, but her save numbers have crept back up to her career marks. Her .425 save percentage is tied for second in the Big Ten, and Ohio State should rely on their goalkeeper keeping them in games with her excellent work between the pipes.

Weakness

Turning defense into offense. Despite Rizzo’s effectiveness on the defense, it hasn’t translated to much offense this season thus far. The Buckeyes are near the bottom of the conference in several offensive statistics including goals per game (6th), points per game (last) and shots on goals per game (6th).

Three things to watch

1. Will Maryland be able to avoid offensive droughts? In the narrow victory over Johns Hopkins last week, Maryland ended both the first and second half on 10-plus minute scoring droughts, allowing the Blue Jays to creep back into the match. Even in victory, that cannot be a theme for the season if the Terps want to rise to the top of the conference. The eye test shows that Maryland’s offense should outperform Ohio State’s, but another offensive power outage could prove detrimental to Maryland’s hopes this weekend.

“I definitely don’t think we’ve seen our peak on offense yet, we still have a lot of work to do,” midfielder Hannah Warther said. “But each week we see a lot of improvement and it’s really exciting to see.”

2. How will Lizzie Colson continue to impact the Terps? A young Terrapin defense welcomed back Colson, a proven All-American talent and valued leader, after she missed the shortened 2020 season due to an ACL injury. After not playing for nearly two years, Colson has been as advertised as both a stat stuffer on defense and as a leader. She earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for her performance against Johns Hopkins and has been a major piece in building the chemistry of an inexperienced defensive unit.

“She’s one of the best leaders on the team,” defender Maddie Sanchez said. “She just builds everyone else’s confidence.”

3. How does Maryland handle a two-game weekend? After 12 days off, Maryland’s offense stumbled to just nine goals in a nail-biting victory over Johns Hopkins last week. Now, the Terps will return to College Park to play two games in the span of three days. The other time that occurred this season in late February, Maryland displayed its potential in two solid games against Michigan.

“For us, we just need to be ready to play anytime,” Reese said. “We’re gonna be challenged in different ways and with challenge comes opportunity to grow and to get better.”