A deflating 16-9 loss against No. 14 Penn State was as atypical of a Maryland women’s lacrosse performance as it could have been.
The final score doesn’t do the performance justice, as the Terps were thoroughly outperformed on the offensive end against the Nittany Lions.
Maryland was outshot 35-27 and had only mustered five goals before four were scored in the final 6:41 of a lost game. Maintaining possession was problematic for the Terps as well, as 16 turnovers hindered the draw control bright spot carried by midfielder Shaylan Ahearn’s ten.
It was one of the team’s worst offensive outings on the abbreviated season and it came with just a week left of the regular season. The warning signs of a collapse such as this one had been lurking for some time.
It started from game one, when the Terps lost by two goals to the very same Penn State team. It was Maryland’s first Big Ten regular season loss and offensive struggles defined the outing.
The Terps trailed in all but six minutes of the contest, tying it up at points, but ultimately not being able to convert on the offensive side. They shot 34.2%, something that head coach Cathy Reese has been clamoring to fix.
“I’m ready for us to be over 50%,” Reese said ahead of the Rutgers matchup on April 8. “I’m struggling because clearly I’m not doing a good enough job. That’s where we want to be, but it’s something that we’re going to continue to work on and continue to build on.”
The Terps have shot above or at 50% prior to that Rutgers matchup but just twice. The outliers included the two matchups against Michigan on both Feb. 26 and Feb. 28. Those two games are outliers for a reason, as the Terps have shot under 40% four times since.
What makes that category so inconsistent is not just the team’s attempts at amassing a .500 shooting percentage coming up short, but the rises and falls in shooting percentage along the way.
Following those two games in which the Terrapins shot 51.5% and 50%, respectively, Maryland fell down to 30% in an overtime nail biter against Johns Hopkins. Six days later, they were back up to above .400 with a .412 shooting percentage against Ohio State, however they crashed back down to Earth with a season-low .297 shooting percentage in the rematch against the Buckeyes on March 20.
The peaks and valleys continued. The last four games they have played, the Terps alternated between above .400 and below, still a far cry from Reese’s goal of .500.
The opportunities have been there, as the Terps have attempted more shots than their opponents, albeit by a slim margin of three. Nevertheless, consistency has plagued the offense from getting off the ground this season, coming full circle to Sunday’s poor outing versus Penn State.
“We are so far in the season and we’re lacking consistency still,” Reese said. “I’m talking about the same things every week and that’s not good enough for where we want to be as a program.”
It starts with taking care of the ball. Despite draw controls being the team’s strength, carelessness on offense has been the team’s Achilles’ heel in recent weeks.
Averaging 14.6 turnovers a game this year, Maryland has risen above that mark seven times this season, including in the all of the last three outings. All four of its losses have been above the season clip in turnovers, while the other three that ended in a Maryland victory saw the Terps average just 10.7 goals per game.
They have failed to consistently capitalize on those successful possession gains, as unforced turnovers have accounted for at least 50% of the total turnover numbers in three of the seven games where Maryland has surpassed 14 turnovers on the match.
Maryland has been able to keep opponents at bay for much of the season, but even that strength has fallen by the wayside at times. Most notably against Northwestern and Penn State, the Terps gave up a combined 76 goals in the four games.
Even in the victories, despite a stretch of holding opponents to single-digit scoring between Feb. 28 and March 20, the first time the Terps faced Michigan and Rutgers, the Wolverines and Scarlet Knights remained in striking distance.
“It’s about playing as a unit, not being individual,” Ahearn said. “It’s urgent in a way, but at the same time, it’s a fix that we’ve made so many times in practice it’s just that we need to make it translate into our game.”
Consistency has been the message all season for Reese and her Terps. They have shown both on offense and defense the potential they have, but putting it all together has continued to plague them.
With just two opponents remaining before postseason play commences, Maryland will have to unlock a certain element of its game sooner rather than later to try and put away its consistency problems.
“Our job on offense is to score and so it doesn’t matter who’s scoring, but making each possession count and really waiting for good opportunities and finishing those opportunities,” attacker Hannah Leubecker said.