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Maryland women’s lacrosse NCAA tournament first round preview: High Point

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The defending champs finally get a chance to protect their crown.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With the field officially set for the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Maryland women’s lacrosse is looking to repeat as national champions after capturing a title back in 2019. The Terps will face off against High Point in the opening round of the tournament Friday evening.

It’s been an up-and-down 2021 season for the defending champs, but the Terps’ solid stretch in the Big Ten tournament presents room for optimism. Maryland advanced past Michigan and then John Hopkins, en route to eventually falling to Northwestern in the finals.

“Things are really starting to align on all ends of the field,” senior attacker Hannah Warther said. “We are just really excited for this next step in the NCAA tournament and ready to play as a team and put everything we’ve worked on all season together.”

Friday’s first round matchup against High Point will be just the second matchup between the two teams. Both squads previously met in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, in which Maryland won handily, 21-6.

The second rendition of the Terrapins vs. Panthers will be played in Durham, North Carolina, as a part of the Durham pod of the bracket. The winner of the game will take on either No. 7 seed Duke or Mount St. Mary’s on Sunday.

Friday’s game will be streamed on ESPN3 and is set to start at 7 p.m.

High Point Panthers 10-7 (6-0 Big South)

Head coach Lyndsey Boswell has been the only coach for the High Point program since its inception in 2009. The team has won seven conference championships and clinched six NCAA Tournament berths under her guidance. Currently, Boswell has led the Panthers to 34 straight victories against Big South opponents amidst a four-year run of conference championships.

This year, High Point encountered a rough stretch midseason but continued its dominance once turning the page to conference play, routing its competition.

Players to know

Senior attacker Abby Hormes (No. 38) — Under Boswell, Hormes has been arguably her best player to date. A two-time all-conference honoree plus the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year, Hormes has more than likely earned another conference POY award for her stellar play on the Panthers’ offense. She overwhelmingly leads the conference in goals with 75 on a 4.41 average across 17 games. She was even named to the Big South All-Decade Team to round out her impressive accolades.

Graduate student midfielder Ashley Britton (No. 26) — Hormes’ running mate on offense is Britton, who has been a tremendous complementary piece on the team’s offense. She is second in the conference in goals (43) despite missing two games to end the regular season. Britton is also a force in the hustle department, collecting a team-high 35 ground balls over the course of the season, good for a 2.50 average.

Goalkeepers Jill Rall (No. 29) and Sarah Zeto (No. 23) — Rall and Zeto have started the same amount of games, and while Zeto has accumulated more minutes in goal than Rall, both have been very effective in their appearances.

Rall leads the Big South in goals allowed average (9.23) and in save percentage (.423). Zeto, an All-Big South First Team player from 2019, has collected a rather poor 2-6 record but has limited conference opponents to just 22 scores. Zeto was the starter in non-conference, while Rall was the starter versus the Big South, giving the Panthers an ace up its sleeve.

Strength

Offense. High Point is one of the best scoring offenses in the nation, averaging 15.18 goals per game. Hormes and Britton lead the pack, but the offense has a ton of heavy hitters across the board. Junior attacker Mena Loescher scored six goals in the Big South semi-finals as sort of a late bloomer on the offense this year. Senior attacker Rachel Foster (33) and senior midfielder Kaely Kyle (25) round out the Panthers’ top-five scorers.

Weakness

Free position percentage. While the offense has been the team’s biggest strength on the year, its free position percentage has been a category that has been lacking. High Point converts on just 38.5% of its free-position chances compared to its opponents’ 47.6% conversion rate. Maryland finds the back of the net on 40.7% of its tries.

Three things to watch

1. Was Maryland’s Big Ten tourney run a sign of things to come? Maryland played its best lacrosse of the season in the three games it played in the Big Ten Tournament. The offense clicked at the right times and the defense held its ground thanks to the stellar play of defender Lizzie Colson.

“This group is just fired up,” Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said. “I’ve said from day one we are gonna be a team that keeps getting better and that was our goal, to be playing our best lacrosse in May.”

If that stretch is any indication of things to come, Maryland could be in line for an extended tournament run this year. Add in the fact that they are the defending national champions in a loaded bracket region, and the Terps could be playing with an even bigger chip on their shoulder.

“I like how there is no expectations, no one is really pressuring us to excel,” Colson said. “It’s a different position that we’ve been in in the last three years ... I think this year we’re kind of excited to fly under the radar and show people what we can do.”

2. Can the offense keep up with High Point? This was the big question heading into the Big Ten Championship game, and Maryland delivered. It stayed within reach against the nation’s best offense. Now, going up against the 16th ranked offense in the country, Maryland will have to do it all over again. Its offense has been hit or miss this season, so maintaining a level of aggressiveness and staying near .500 shooting will certainly pay its dividends against a strong offensive opponent.

“This is a team that we can’t have lapses against,” Reese said. “We need to be on point and strong from start to finish to be successful.”

3. High Point is battle-tested, but has it been too long? High Point hasn’t been limited to just a conference schedule as the Terps have. The Panthers have played six tournament teams and didn’t back down against them. They defeated Mercer and lost by just one goal to Jacksonville and James Madison.

Although the Panthers were dealt a substantial non-conference schedule, they have had nothing short of a cakewalk against Big South opponents. Usual starter Zeto has not started a game since an appearance against Coastal Carolina on March 17. That may hinder High Point to the point where meeting up with the Terps will be almost like that of a culture shock, even though they played tougher competition earlier in the season.