Up four goals with around two minutes remaining in the first half, Ohio State’s Ashley Turner lined up on the free position to challenge No. 10 Maryland women’s lacrosse’s rock solid defense.
Goalie Emily Sterling read the shot to perfection as she deflected the right side bouncer and fed the ensuing Maryland attack. The Terps couldn’t convert, however, and quickly sent the Buckeyes back to the free position for a chance to end their scoring drought.
At the 1:13 mark, Sterling came up clutch once again, denying a mirror image shot from Liza Hernandez. By the time the horn blared, Maryland had held the Buckeyes to just two first half goals amid a scoring drought of over 16 minutes, en route to comfortable 11-5 victory.
“Lauri Kenis works with our defense and has just done a phenomenal job,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “She’s really been focusing on making these little adjustments and maintaining that discipline and when we can do that defensively, we can set our goalkeeper up for success and so I think what we saw today.”
Maryland was aggressive early, earning two free position opportunities. After the first one was tossed behind the net for a reset, the second one was rifled in by Brindi Griffin as her side wrister wrapped around two defenders and found the back of the net.
The Terps made the Buckeyes grind for their first goal thanks to suffocating defense. It finally came the visitor’s way on the free position via midfielder Chloe Johnson, locking up the score at one apiece.
As the Terps hunkered down, so did the Buckeyes, with the match remaining scoreless up until midfielder Grace Griffin found a cutting attacker Libby May at the 19:13 mark — ten minutes between the first and second goal from Maryland.
Momentum seemed to shift Maryland’s way, with attacker Hannah Leubecker firing in goal No. 24 on the year with a pretty flick and fire from the 8-meter line. Leading nine shots to one, Maryland couldn’t help but allow Ohio State to hang around, as Johnson supplied the much-needed response to make it 3-2 heading into the midway point of the first half.
Leubecker wouldn’t let the Buckeyes stay within breathing distance, as the sophomore began to score at will. Her second goal extended the lead back up to two for the Terrapins, then a minute and a half later she locked down another hat trick off of a failed clear attempt by the Buckeyes.
Midfielder Hannah Warther took her turn on the free position a few minutes later, giving Maryland a comfortable 6-2 lead heading into halftime. The defense continued to shine for the Terps as they held the Buckeyes scoreless for the final 16:32 of the half.
Although the Terps offense had been given a plethora of opportunities to convert thanks to 17 first half shots, the Big Ten’s second-ranked defense based on goals against average flexed their muscles.
“We were just focusing on one little thing at a time getting our slides on time, covering the backside, talking on the backside and eventually it just all came together,” Sterling said.
Sterling was flawless in between the pipes, corralling nine first half saves to the tune of a .818 save percentage. Her play was bookended by defender Lizzie Colson, as the senior followed up her tremendous effort on Thursday with another stat-stuffing first half (two ground balls, one caused turnover, three draw controls).
Ohio State came out guns blazing, but a goal by midfielder Jamie Level was quickly overturned because of a crease violation, stymieing the momentum the Buckeyes had tried to build out of the intermission.
While Maryland’s defense kept thriving, Maryland struggled to extend its stronghold on the lead. The play of goalie Jillian Rizzo in net was a big counter to the Terrapins’ efforts, as a one-on-one opportunity by attacker Catie May off of a careless Buckeye turnover in their own 8-meter was cut off by the fifth year.
Rizzo’s defense could only hold for so long as Maryland continued its feisty offensive efforts. At the 22:26 mark and up a man, midfielder Shaylan Ahearn found attacker Brindi Griffin gliding on the baseline as she went low to score the first goal of the half.
The Maryland defense couldn’t hold off the Buckeyes much longer, however, as they finally ceded a goal after the Buckeyes had gone 25:50 without scoring before midfielder Ali Beekhuizen found the back of the net.
Halfway through the second half, Leubecker got back into the scoring column after a sizable drought by her standards. Her free position conversion made it goal No. 11 on the weekend as she continues her torrid pace, offering a bright spot in an otherwise poor offensive series for Terps.
Ohio State kept the game within reach, cutting Maryland’s lead back to four off of a Hernandez score, but Grace Griffin used exquisite dodging to drop it over the top of the defense, bringing the game back up to a comfortable five goal advantage.
The Terps added to its lead, with Leubecker converting on the free position for her fifth on the day and 12th this weekend against Ohio State.
Maryland finished its afternoon showdown against the Buckeyes with a +14 shot margin, as they coasted to an easy victory to make it five straight.
Three things to know
1. Offense needs some soul searching. Maryland did a better job of controlling the tempo on offense today, but the opportunities they created were squandered by poor shooting numbers again. Outside of Leubecker, the Terps offense failed to find any consistency, specifically at the 8-meter as they shot 4-16.
“We need to have confidence on the offensive end and when we do find our openings, we need to take advantage of those opportunities and score,” Reese said. “...our execution wasn’t where it needs to be.”
While the moniker “defense wins championships” is tried and proven, the Terps are going to have to do some soul searching on the offense sooner rather than later if they want to be competitive with the other top teams in the country. They draw No. 3 Northwestern next week for a two-game road series.
“We’re getting more and more assists each game and really jelling as a unit,” Brindi Griffin said. “Obviously we still have things to work on, but I’m really excited to prepare each day for Northwestern.”
2. Emily Sterling had her breakout performance. While the defensive rotations by the Terrapins were on point per usual, it was Sterling who finally broke through in this one. After coasting to a middling .408 save percentage up to this point in Big Ten play, the sophomore shined in net with a sizable leap from her season numbers. Her 12 saves were a career-high as she finished with a .706 save percentage and held the Buckeye offense in check over all 60 minutes.
“I have to give credit to my defense, they were the ones who were forcing the lesser angle shots that gave me a better chance to save the ball,” Sterling said. “They were playing for me and then I just had their backs out there.”
3. Maryland dominated the draw. From Ahearn on the opening draw to Colson everywhere else, the Terps held a stronghold in the draw control category. The disparity was clear in the box score, as Maryland’s 14 compared to Ohio State’s four, but the opportunities the possession control presented helped Maryland hold a lead the entire match. The flow of the match was in favor of the Terps all day. A plus to the draw control margin was a near-perfect 18-19 in clears, staying true to Maryland’s dominance in time of possession.