Facing an early 3-2 deficit, Maryland women’s lacrosse aimed to finally gain some momentum in a neck-and-neck start to its first round matchup against High Point in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Enter midfielder Eloise Clevenger. After not scoring in the first 15 games of her Terrapin career, the freshman got her first goal via a solo dodge through the thick of the High Point defense.
After attackers Brindi Griffin and Libby May scored on their respective free position tries to give the Terps their first lead of the game, Clevenger came back down and found a wide-open lane to make it 6-3.
This sudden burst of offense from the Terrapins was just the start, as Maryland rattled off nine consecutive scores to pull away from the Panthers and come out on top, 17-6, to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It was the best shooting performance of the season for the Terps (.531) and the fourth time in the last five games they have shot over .450.
“I was proud of how we responded after our first media timeout,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “We started to really turn a corner and I think we started to become more detail focused.”
The win by the Terrapins sets up an intriguing second-round matchup against former ACC rival Duke, which will take place in the Blue Devils’ backyard on Sunday at 1 p.m.
A 31st straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Terrapins kicked off against a hungry High Point team that began its search for the upset bid.
That bid got off to a roaring start, as the Panthers’ opening draw control lead to a quick score just 42 seconds in via attacker Rachel Foster.
Maryland was able to respond a few minutes later thanks to a behind-the-cage feed by Griffin to midfielder Grace Griffin, but the Panthers’ stronghold at the draw circle set up its offense once again to take a 2-1 advantage.
Falling behind for the second time in short order, the May sisters responded for the Terps. Attacker Catie May found Libby May cutting through the seams, setting up the sophomore with an easy release point for the equalizer.
Just past the ten-minute mark, attacker Nicole Pugh found the back of the net on the Panthers’ seventh shot of the evening, setting her team up with another one-goal lead.
Ineffectiveness on draw circle plagued the Terrapins as the midway point of the half approached, trailing 5-1 in that department. But the offense then found its rhythm after defender Lizzie Colson’s 43rd caused turnover of the season.
That defensive execution by the Tewaaraton award finalist segued into the first career goal from Clevenger. The score couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as the floodgates began to open for the Terrapins.
Brindi Griffin fired in her first goal of the tournament with a sidewinding free position shot, followed by Libby May’s second goal of the match, which also came from the eight-meter.
Attacker Hannah Warther added more fuel to the fire from the free position — the third such far — marking Maryland’s fifth straight goal.
Maryland ended the half up 11-4, with six different players contributing in the scoring column as a part of a 9-0 scoring run.
“We didn’t have a game all season that didn’t challenge us in one way or the other,” Reese said. “I think we really settled in [after those opening ten minutes] and we didn’t leave anybody out to dry.”
Forcing turnovers and controlling the possession arrow was key in the Terrapin resurgence.
Colson cleaned up Maryland’s act on the draw circle with four such collections, while Warther compiled two caused turnovers. But it was goalkeeper Emily Sterling denying eight High Point shots down the stretch that allowed the Terps to gain considerable distance as the offense fed off of the defense.
The Terps suffered a handful of turnovers to start the second half, but Libby May was able to answer, scoring her fourth goal of the night off an assist from her sister. Catie May then decided to join in on the fun, becoming the seventh Terp to score on the evening.
Maryland coasted through the final 20 minutes of the half after a Grace Griffin free position initiated a running clock situation.
A Libby May free position conversion rewarded the sophomore with a career-high five goals, while Warther’s second goal of the night was the sixth free position by the Terrapins.
Maryland’s defense was equally as impressive as its offense, as it shut down the Panthers for 23 and a half minutes of the second half en route to victory.
“Something that we’ve been working on is pulling away from teams so I think we did a really good job of staying disciplined and getting that huge lead,” Libby May said. “It was definitely reassuring for us and it feels really good to get such a big win.”
Three things to know
1. The Terps’ defense was brilliant. Although a bit shaky in the opening minutes, Maryland’s defense was the unsung hero today. Sterling was phenomenal in the cage, allowing just four goals and tallying 11 saves. Colson, fresh off being named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, was dominant as usual. The fifth year senior compiled two ground balls and one caused turnovers to go along with the seven total. As a whole, the defense did a tremendous job of keeping High Point’s leading scorer Abby Hormes in check, allowing the senior attacker to score once on five shots.
“We focused a lot tonight on discipline and executing the game plan, but I think we have to do it from the jump,” Colson said. “Once we locked it in it was full speed ahead. I think it was just really important to get back to our Maryland roots and we couldn’t take anyone for granted.”
2. Maryland’s offense uncovered another gem. Clevenger, the No. 14 recruit in the Class of 2020, hadn’t scored in the prior 15 games of the season and had mustered just a single shot attempt in her young career. But her role on the offense in the first round of the NCAA Tournament reached the potential Reese had been promoting all season. Clevenger scored twice, including the third goal of the game that sparked a massive 9-0 run in the first half. Just like that, another weapon in Maryland’s arsenal had been unleashed.
3. The Terps’ draw circle play was inconsistent. Maryland had a solid stretch of offense in the first half that was produced by a string of draw controls, but for the majority of the matchup, High Point controlled the circle. The Terps average 14.13 on the season, but will need to pick up the pace on that end if they want to keep up with an upcoming Duke opponent that ranks second in the country in draw control percentage (.648).
“I think going forward is gonna be a lot film and a lot of breaking down that [attacker] Maddie Jenner draw,” Colson said.