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Behind its defense, No. 10 Maryland women’s lacrosse grinds out win over Ohio State, 14-9

The Terps let the Buckeyes threaten, but clamped down in the second half to seal the victory.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With 10:13 remaining, Ohio State was hanging around despite once trailing by six goals. Maryland defender Laurie Bracey caused a turnover out of the visitors’ timeout, which immediately flipped the field into a free position opportunity for attacker Hannah Leubecker.

For goal No. 20 on the year, Leubecker took the free position up the middle and bounced it past goalkeeper Jillian Rizzo to end the 12:21 drought by the Terrapins.

That score ignited a strong finish to the game for Maryland, as it closed out the Buckeyes, 14-9, for its fourth straight victory.

“We definitely grew as a team today which is what we’re asking for as we go through the season,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We’ve got room to improve and a quick turnaround to be ready to play this team on Saturday.”

Leubecker opened things up with a bouncing shot — her 17th in five games — to continue her amazing start to the season.

A poised defensive stand that led to a Buckeyes shot clock violation segued into a patient offensive attack from the Terrapins. Midfielder Grace Griffin — who accumulated a career-high eight points today — extended Maryland’s lead to two, then came back down the field off of a successful clear to fake high and fire in low to make it 3-0.

After attacker Liza Hernandez broke the dry spell for the Buckeyes, Griffin capped off her hat trick at the 23:27 mark of the first half, showcasing the tremendous efficiency for the Terps offense in the early going.

Griffin kept the show rolling, finding a cutting attacker Libby May down the middle for the team’s sixth goal at the 19:04 mark. The senior captain then took a free position opportunity less than a minute later and squeaked it by Rizzo for another score, leading to a much-needed timeout from the visitors.

The intermission didn’t help halt Maryland’s momentum, as a sixth turnover by the Buckeyes led to another free position chance for the Terrapins. This time it was Leubecker converting, scoring the Terps’ eighth goal just over halfway through the first half

Maryland had scored just eight goals in regulation last week against Johns Hopkins and looked to be cruising to a stellar offensive outing. But the Terps remained stuck at that mark for the remainder of the half as the Buckeyes made it a game thanks to four straight scores.

Once up 8-2, Maryland let the Buckeyes inch closer and closer, but the Terps were able to hold the visitors in check on defense and provide the struggling Terps offense with a much-needed backbone.

Only eight shots on goal for the Buckeyes speaks to how challenging Maryland made it for Ohio State to get off quality shots and that mindset continued into the second half, only allowing six more shots on goal the rest of the way.

“Defensively, I just felt like we were much more disciplined, we were more organized, we were more checked in as we were going through the second half and just real confident in ourselves, in each other, and that was great to see,” Reese said.

Goalies Emily Sterling and Rizzo traded saves in between the pipes to start the half, with neither team finding the back of the net until attacker Brindi Griffin ended the massive 19:50 scoring drought from the Terrapins.

Leubecker took her turn on the offense, pushing in from the strong side and finishing with her off hand to secure her fourth consecutive hat trick, making it 10-6 in favor of the Terps.

A stalemate occurred once again in this defensive-minded matchup. Following Ohio State’s seventh goal by attacker Clare Johnston at the 19:36 mark, both teams failed to convert on offensive chances for more than ten minutes.

The flow of the game took on a painstaking pace, as the leading Terps and the trailing Buckeyes each took their time on the offensive end. It wasn’t until a pair of goals from Leubecker — No. 20 and 21 on the year — provided Maryland with enough of a cushion offensively.

“The opportunities really opened up and it just so happened to be me in the spot that was open,” Leubecker said.

The sophomore phenom didn’t stop there, as Maryland’s offense ran through Leubecker’s five second half goals. A four goal stretch by Leubecker in just under five minutes rewarded Maryland a comfortable 14-9 victory in an otherwise slow moving offensive showing.

Three things to know

1. A strong offensive start quickly deflated. It was like a balloon being poked by a needle. Maryland’s offense was off to torrid start in this one, only for the offense to falter down the stretch. Grace Griffin had three goals in the first 6:33 of the match and the rest of the offense rounded out an eight goal, 14:14 start. But from there, that’s when the drought set in.

Maryland couldn’t find the back of the net, ending the half on a 15:46 long drought. After scoring twice in the first nine minutes of the second half, another massive drought persisted. For 12:21, the Terps didn’t score in the second half, and if it weren’t for tremendous defense and a jolt of momentum provided by Leubecker at the end of the match, the result could have been far different.

“One of the lessons we need to learn is the importance of consistency,” Reese said. “We’re not going to score every shot we take, but we need to be able to rebound from that and find a way to put the next one away or to execute when things start to get tough.”

2. Lizzie Colson for Tewaaraton? The last time a defender has won lacrosse’s most prestigious award was in 2003 when Princeton’s Rachael Becker nabbed the award. If any defender in the country were to claim the honor, it would be Colson. Last playing on May 26, 2019, in the national championship against Boston College, Colson has come back with a vengeance this season. She is constantly stuffing the stat sheet and was a major player in Maryland’s victory once again, compiling eight draw controls, five ground balls and four caused turnovers.

3. The Terps continued to struggle converting from the free-position. One key weakness for Maryland so far in 2021 has been its inability to capitalize on free-position chances. The Terps have been at or below 50% from the free position stripe in all but one of their games this year, and that continued against the Buckeyes. A 3-6 showing in this one came off of a 3-7 performance last week against Johns Hopkins. It’s a far cry from the 2019 national championship team that over the course of the season shot 52.6% from the free position.

“Just finding the net and being confident,” Grace Griffin said about what the team needs to do to correct their free position struggles. “Every single person stepping up to the line ... just knowing and trusting our capabilities.”