For No. 11 Maryland women’s lacrosse, an abbreviated 2021 regular season has brought its fair share of challenges. Offensive woes of late have been the main catalyst for head coach Cathy Reese’s worst regular season in terms of winning percentage (.583) excluding last year’s canceled season.
The Terps offense has fluctuated above and below a .400 shooting percentage throughout the season. Even when they are above that mark, which has occurred six times, a victory is not guaranteed as Maryland has dropped two such games.
One of those losses was last Sunday’s 16-14 defeat against Rutgers, the first loss to the Scarlet Knights in program history. In the end, they shot well and showed a flash of potential, but Maryland’s performance followed a consistent trend.
This season trend for the Terps can be compared to a golfer attempting to fix their swing: once that backswing is corrected, one may lift their head. Then, once the golfer is able to keep their head down through the swing, another error arises.
In the team’s fifth loss of the season, Maryland’s defense, which has been its strength this season, fell to the wayside. A six-score run in the first half and a seven-score run ceded to the Scarlet Knights in the second half highlighted the defensive struggles in this one.
“We can’t have lapses like that and expect to come away with wins in our conference,” Reese said. “As coaches we need to figure out how to bring a level of intensity to a full 60 minutes.”
The Terps collected a season-low ten ground balls and forced six turnovers, which ties for its second-worst mark on the year.
The matchup prior versus Johns Hopkins was flipped. The offense mustered just a .333 shot percentage and scored just nine goals in a narrow victory. A 20+ minute scoring drought in the second half was salvaged by the dynamic duo of attacker Brindi Griffin and midfielder Grace Griffin. Brindi Griffin tied the game up before Grace Griffin fired in the game-winner with 39.3 seconds remaining.
What kept Maryland alive despite suffering from such a prolonged scoring drought was its defense. Defenders Lizzie Colson and Laurie Bracey forced four turnovers each, adding to the dozen turnovers forced on the day.
From game to game and even play to play at times, the pattern has been all about fixing one issue, but in the process, the Terps have let a previous strong suit dip in production.
It’s been an erratic changing of the guards all year long, as Maryland has had moments on both the offense and defense that allude to the fact that they are on the cusp of breaking out.
From Colson’s dominance on her way to a top-25 Tewaaraton nomination to sophomore attacker Hannah Leubecker’s absurd offensive stretch from late February to early March, both sides of the ball have had their moments to shine this season.
Putting it all together has been the problem, however, with the calling card for Reese and her squad being to play a full 60 minutes of Terrapin lacrosse.
“As we’ve gone through the season I think we’ve grown a lot as a team,” Reese said. “We’re trying to string together more than moments that we are really good and look for that consistency during a 60 minute opportunity.”
A 7-5 record came as a result of a bizarre up-and-down season for Maryland, which landed them the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. The two narrow victories against Hopkins, who also finished 7-5, was able to clinch the higher seed via head-to-head record.
Offensive juggernaut Northwestern was able to complete its undefeated season and snatch the top seed in the conference tournament, but the rest of the Big Ten, particularly Penn State and Rutgers who handed Maryland a combined three losses, suffered extended losing streaks to help push the Terps to the top-two despite their inconsistencies.
Maryland was able to stave off constant bleeding unlike its Big Ten counterparts, lining them up for a first round matchup against Michigan on April 29, a team they bested in both meetings in College Park in late February.
In those two meetings, the Terps shot above .500 which are the only times they have achieved that mark this season. It was the breakout weekend for Leubecker, who earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors after scoring ten goals across the two games.
The first game on Feb. 26 was the closest Maryland came to putting together a complete game this season, but the offense fell into difficult stretches in the Feb. 28 matchup. Since that two-game stretch, they have continued to try and put it all together.
“Practice translates into the game and so going hard in practice and even creating that urgency in practice is going to be huge,” Leubecker said. “Our defense is one of the best we go up against. They have to go up against us on offense and we go up against us on defense so that just works together as a team to make sure we’re prepared on offense and defense.”
A perfect opportunity presents itself for Maryland to try and straighten out its consistency troubles ahead of postseason play, especially against the team they played closest to a top to bottom performance. But this upcoming Big Ten tournament matchup comes off the heels of an 11-day break, which could play to Maryland’s advantage.
All season the Terps have had one part of their game succeed, but another struggle to get off the ground. With more time in practice to work out the kinks on both ends of the field, Maryland could find its sweet spot at just the right part of the season.
If this past year has taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected. Maryland has shocked fans by virtue of an uncharacteristic 7-5 record, but it’s not too late for the defending national champions to turn the tides on the season and make a big impact down the stretch.
“It’s a stretch physically and emotionally and just to kind of have the opportunity to reset and get back to the drawing board and really kind of dive into what we want to create out of this season,” Reese said. “Even though our regular seasons done there’s still some lacrosse to be played.”