The Big Ten tournament is finally upon us, as the Maryland women’s lacrosse team navigated an abbreviated regular season in order to land the tourney’s No. 2 seed. It draws the No. 7 seed Michigan Wolverines in the quarterfinals, which will mark the third meeting between these two teams of the year.
“There’s a lot of excitement around this week for us here,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “Everyone’s pretty fired up and excited just to see what we’re doing when we dive into this next portion of our season.”
The Terrapins are coming off a frustrating loss to Rutgers on April 18, whereas Michigan lost both legs of a two-game series versus Johns Hopkins, increasing the Wolverines’s losing streak to five.
One team has got to give in this first-round matchup and all the action will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network at 5 p.m. on April 29. This game and the rest of the Big Ten Tournament will be played at Penn State’s Panzer Stadium.
What happened last time
It was the Hannah Leubecker show in the last two meetings between these two, as the sophomore attacker burst onto the scene with ten goals in two games, earning her Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors.
A 17-13 victory by the Terps in the opening leg of the series was led by Leubecker’s amazing count of seven goals. Two days later, the Wolverines put up more of a fight defensively by limiting the stud sophomore to three scores, but Maryland wasn’t to be deterred as they capped off a weekend sweep, 12-9.
What has happened since
Both teams came away from the two-game series on Feb. 26 and Feb. 28 with a three-game win streak (extending Maryland’s win streak to five games), but the momentum came to a screeching halt.
The Terps suffered double-digit losses to Northwestern before alternating between wins and losses to finish out their season. Inconsistencies plagued the Terrapins from game to game, as the offense and defense fluctuated.
Michigan was dealt the COVID-19 card midseason, as its series against Johns Hopkins was postponed on two separate occasions. After not playing for 18 days, the Wolverines dropped their last four games. Added onto its overtime loss prior to the layoff, Michigan hasn’t won a game since March 19.
“There’s been a lot of things that have been different from our team as we’ve kind of grown and learned about ourselves in the past couple months and the same thing with them too,” Reese said on the long timeframe between matches against Michigan.
Three things to watch
1. Will this start the turning of the tides for Maryland? The Terps lumbered to a 7-5 record and were fortunate enough to land a top-2 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Putting the up and down season behind them, Maryland should look to capitalize upon a fresh postseason plate. Although the opponents remain the same, Maryland could use the heightened intensity of the playoffs to its advantage. Will that switch to do or die lacrosse pay its dividends in the end? Or will Maryland continue to barely stave off opponents they have had no issue defeating in the past?
2. How will senior leadership impact the younger Terps? The playoffs are a different beast in any sport and for a majority of Reese’s roster, this will be the first time they play that cutthroat postseason environment. The freshman and sophomore class will be entering an unfamiliar fray, but the bigger picture remains at large: they have seen all these teams before. Defender Lizzie Colson has made sure to remind her teammates that they are bigger than the moment.
“Just mainly to enjoy every moment, especially this year with COVID you don’t really know when you get the opportunity to play next,” Colson said. “I think just having fun with it and reminding the girls kind of why we’re here, we’re here to compete and we’re here to play at the highest level.”
3. Can Maryland take advantage of the draw? Not much went wrong in the box score for the Terps in both of their meetings against Michigan back in February but the one category that they fell behind in was with draw controls. The Wolverines prevailed in that department in both games but Maryland was able to keep the margin close to secure the two victories. In the first matchup, Michigan had 18 draw controls while Maryland had 14 and in the second the Wolverines had 12 and Maryland controlled 11. Thursday’s quarterfinal should prove to be a grueling matchup between two feisty squads and it all will start at the draw circle.
“Instead of giving up after you don’t have the ball, go exactly where you want to and fight it out and work together to kind of swarm the ball and come up with a ground ball,” midfielder Shaylan Ahearn said.