After a troublesome second half, No. 2 seed Maryland women’s lacrosse began picking up the pieces against No. 1 seed Northwestern thanks to a 3-0 run in the second half of the Big Ten tournament final.
The best scoring offense in the country was stifled for a solid 10:35, leading to Maryland cutting the deficit to just two scores. That was until Tewaaraton favorite Izzy Scane broke out from her slumber.
Maryland struggled all day to contain the nation’s top scorer, and Scane’s two goals late in the second half put the Terps down for good as Maryland failed to capitalize on an impressive start, ultimately losing 17-12.
“I think we’re going in the right direction,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “Did we make mistakes? Yes. Did we have plays we want to have back? Yes. But I’m proud of these guys and proud of their effort and proud of their heart. [I’m] proud that they have done everything possible to give everything they have for this team and have worked their way through the season with a lot of grit and determination.”
All eyes were on the Terrapins on Sunday as the national champions entered as heavy underdogs against undefeated Northwestern.
The Terps needed to start fast and attacker Libby May cashed in. The sophomore roped in the free position opportunity just 19 seconds in to provide Maryland with the statement score.
Just over a minute later, May scored again off of the feed from attacker Hannah Warther. After the Terps collected their third draw control in as many tries, attacker Hannah Leubecker maneuvered a fabulous dodge to get to the crease and rifle in the third goal for the Terrapins in the opening minutes.
It couldn’t have been a more perfect start for the Terrapins, and even after midfielder Sammy Mueller converted on a Northwestern free position to make it 3-1, May came back the other way to score her third of the game and put Maryland up three just five minutes in.
The momentum continued to favor the Terps as attacker Brindi Griffin converted on a tough angle to put Maryland up 5-1 and hand Northwestern its largest deficit on the season.
The Wildcats didn’t stay down for too long after that as the high octane approach from the nation’s top scoring offense led to two quick goals to cut it to a two-score game.
Both offenses seemed to fizzle out as the midway point approached. Particularly the Terps, who had scored five times in the first 6:15, squandered two separate woman-up situations to try and force home number six.
While the offense hit a bit of a lull period, the Terrapin defense stepped up accordingly. Defender Lizzie Colson forced two turnovers during that span and Leubecker added one of her own to hold the Northwestern offense in check.
At the 12:56 mark, nearly ten minutes since the last score, midfielder Grace Griffin served up Brindi Griffin for the sixth goal of the contest. Then, after a third free position goal from the Wildcats, Brindi Griffin executed a solid wrap around the crease to rope in a hat trick of her own to make it 7-4.
Attacker Izzy Scane kept Northwestern hanging around, eventually tying it up at seven on her fourth score of the game.
Facing a woman-down situation, Northwestern tried to claim its first lead of the matchup but a phenomenal interception out of the crease by goaltender Emily Sterling set up the Terps with a chance to jump out in front.
Great play in goal by Madison Doucette thwarted a missile by Warther, but the other way Sterling made another solid save to prevent the Wildcats from taking the lead.
Despite the flurry of chances and a few hiccups ceded to Scane, Maryland had set the tone.
“I’m just gonna have [my team’s] back in whatever way I can,” Sterling said. “Whether that’s coming and getting a loose ball or coming up with a save when they need it.”
Northwestern was held in check for most of the half as the Terps kept the pressure on. They forced six turnovers and were 11-11 on clear attempts in a tremendous half of play.
But just like the previous two Big Ten tournament matches, as well as the previous two meetings between the Wildcats and Terps, Maryland needed to replicate its first-half performance with an equally impressive second half in order to clinch the victory.
It didn’t start off too well, as Scane found the back of the net twice in the first two minutes to reward the Wildcats with its first lead of the game and then some. Attacker Lindsey McKone added insult to injury with a behind-the-back free position goal, forcing Reese to call a timeout in hopes of stopping the bleeding.
Northwestern just kept collecting draw controls and scoring, forcefully taking a five-goal lead thanks to an 8-0 run. Maryland hadn’t scored for 26:58 until midfielder Shaylan Ahearn ended the massive drought.
Maryland’s defense began to force Northwestern out of system down the stretch, eventually leading to a free position goal from Grace Griffin to make it a three-score game with just over 12 minutes left. Warther added to the run with great stick play and dodging to fire in her 20th of the year to make it a 12-10 ballgame.
The Scane Train got the ball rolling again for Northwestern thereafter, scoring her seventh goal before midfielder Brennan Dwyer converted 30 seconds later. Scane added another for good measure, which seemed to end any hope of Maryland mounting a comeback with 7:36 left.
Maryland made a bit of a run towards the end, with Brindi Griffin scoring on an open net opportunity and Leubecker firing in a free position chance. But it was too little too late as the Terps dropped to 0-3 on the year versus the Wildcats.
“We’re making a lot of progress ... this is what we want to see with this group,” Reese said. “We need to make some adjustments. We got crushed on the draw, they kind of dominated that center area, and we need to give up less 8-meters. That’ll be for next week’s discussion.”
Three things to know
1. Maryland showed its stripes. The first two games of the Big Ten tournament saw the Terps play its best halves of the season, only to decline a bit in the latter portion of each game. Not only was Maryland tasked in finishing as strong as it started, but particularly against Northwestern after being outscored 25-8 in the second half in the two regular season meetings, did the Terps need to deliver. The narrative stayed the same with a bit of a lackluster showing in the second half for Maryland, but this stretch of three games in four days has certainly sparked some optimism for the Terrapins’ prospects heading into the NCAA tournament.
“This past week since we had our last regular season game and into this tournament we’ve really stepped up our energy, stepped up our confidence on and off the field, and just worked on our friendships with one another and it has really come to show,” Sterling said.
2. The draw controls were crucial. Maryland can credit their rapid start to this game to its ability on the draw. Colson scooped up two while Ahearn collected an additional one to help set up the Terrapin offense. As Northwestern began to get it going in that department, the scoring began to rack up for the perennial powerhouse. The game ended with a +13 margin for the Wildcats, which allowed Northwestern to ease into its offense and control the tempo despite facing an early deficit.
3. The Terps kept in stride with Northwestern’s shooting, but it wasn’t enough. One positive Reese can take away from her team’s effort today was the aggressiveness from the offense. They weren’t passive and they didn’t rely on solo dodges to take it to the crease — something the Terrapins have been clamoring to address. The Terps played together, attacked the open seams and didn’t let the offense come to them, but instead forced Northwestern to play on its toes. This led to the Terrapins shooting 50%, something the team as a whole had achieved just thrice on the year.
“To be able to do that today is really important,” Brindi Griffin said. “It stinks to lose and it’s not fun, but that’s something we’re able to take away and keep growing with.”