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No. 9 Maryland women’s lacrosse preview: No. 23 Rutgers

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The Terps will honor its seniors as it looks to bounce back following consecutive losses to Northwestern.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 11 Maryland women’s lacrosse suffered back-to-back crushing losses in their last two outings versus then-No. 3 Northwestern.

The first match on March 27 was all Wildcats from the start, with Maryland ceding 25 goals to the nation’s top offense. Two days later, the Terrapins tied with Northwestern heading into the half, but were outscored 13-3 in the final 30 minutes.

“We knew that we were going to be challenged on both ends and I think we saw once again we didn’t finish on as many opportunities as we had, which ultimately hurt us,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “Consistency across the board has been a process this year. As coaches we’re just continuing to reinforce and going through trying to learn different aspects of our game.”

Up next for the Terps is No. 23 Rutgers, which was ranked as high as 14th in the Inside Lacrosse polls earlier in the season. Maryland will also honors its nine seniors on Thursday in socially distant festivities.

Thursday’s matchup will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network at 5 p.m.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-5 Big Ten)

Head coach Melissa Lehman is in her second year at the helm in Piscataway after spending 10 years with Penn as an associate head coach and assistant coach. Her track record with the Quakers — which includes eight Ivy League titles and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament each year — earned her the job in the Big Ten following the 2019 season.

After leaving her alma mater, Lehman coached just nine games before the coronavirus pandemic set in. Prior to the season’s discontinuation, the Scarlet Knights were 4-5 and were lined up to play the Terrapins to start conference play before the cancellation. Over a year later, Lehman will finally get her first crack at Maryland.

Players to know

Sophomore midfielder Cassidy Spilis (No. 8) — Spilis leads the young group of impact players for Rutgers as the do-it-all midfielder. Lehman held an excellent track record while at Penn in molding some of the nations’ best midfielders and that’s exactly what she has done with Spilis thus far. She is ranked in the Big Ten in multiple categories, including goals per game (2.88, 4th), ground balls per game (2.13, 7th), caused turnovers (1.63, 6th) and draw controls (3.13, 10th).

Sophomore defender Meghan Ball (No. 4) — Ball has been equally as impressive since joining the Scarlet Knights along with Lehman. been dominant in defensive categories. She has compiled 19 ground balls (2.38 per game), 14 caused turnovers (1.75) and 27 draw controls (3.38) across eight games this year, building on her solid start to her collegiate career in nine games last season.

Junior attacker Marin Hartshorn (No. 17) — A team captain for this season, Hartshorn has racked up solid numbers at the draw as well as in the scoring department; all too similar to her older sister Kali’s style of play with the Terps. Marin is off to a slow start in goals scored, collecting just nine to place fourth on the team. But her impact on the draw has been a main strength for the Scarlet Knights, gathering 24.

Strength

Draw controls. There aren’t too many outward strengths that Rutgers holds in comparison to the rest of the Big Ten, but having three different players with over 20 draw controls certainly plays to its benefit. The Scarlet Knights rank third in that category in the Big Ten (13.63), just behind Maryland at 14.38. Still, having the flexibility and depth in that standard can be a huge difference maker in Thursday’s match, especially after Maryland’s struggles against Northwestern.

Weakness

Defense. Rutgers ranks in at least the bottom two of several defensive categories (goals against, caused turnovers per game and ground balls per game). That can be especially problematic against a Maryland team that is on the cusp on an offensive breakthrough.

Three things to know

1. Draw controls will be key. Over the two game series against Northwestern, Maryland was beat out on the draw circle 45-24. While on the year they rank second in the conference, as well as featuring the third ranked player in defender Lizzie Colson (4.75 per game), Maryland will need to make up for the slack against another strong draw control team.

“For us it’s about making those adjustments in game as we go,” Reese said. “They’re learning and every person they draw against is different. Even in practice we could have four people that we may use to take the draw and each of them has different kind of style and technique.”

The Terps lost control in both matches due to its struggles on the draw, and making an impact in that department will be the difference maker on Thursday.

“We have really been working hard to make some adjustments on the circle as far as that goes,” Colson added. “We’re just gonna have to fight a little harder and just read the play a little bit better.”

2. How will the two teams respond to their long breaks? Whereas Maryland has been off for 10 days, the Scarlet Knights have been off for even longer, with Thursday’s match marking the end of an 18-day hiatus. As a matter of fact, both teams last played against Northwestern, with both Maryland and Rutgers losing by double digits. Not only will the two teams be taking the field off long breaks, but off giant losses as well. It adds another element to this must-win showdown for both sides.

3. Some seniors will not be honored. Midfielder Grace Griffin and defender Tori Barretta are the two seniors that will not be honored during the senior day festivities. That is because they are choosing to extend their playing careers and utilize the extra year of athletic eligibility granted to them by the NCAA. For Griffin, the decision was an easy one.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have another year,” Griffin said. “I love my teammates, I love College Park, I love my coaches and just being able to play the sport I love with the people I love for another year, it means a lot.”