The top-ranked Maryland women’s lacrosse team expects to face challenges this postseason.
Last year, en route to a second-straight national title, coach Cathy Reese’s squad played close games against Syracuse and North Carolina in the final four. The Terps also dropped their Big Ten Tournament semifinal contest against Ohio State, 11-10.
Behind the performances of the second-best offense in the country and sixth-ranked defense, the No. 1 Terps haven’t played many tight contests throughout this season. Through 17 regular-season games, the Terps trailed once at halftime — a three-goal deficit to Johns Hopkins on April 6.
The Terps weren’t accustomed to the back-and-forth nature of Thursday night’s 10-9 win in the regular-season finale against Penn State. Ahead of this week’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal against either Ohio State or Rutgers, they believe their one-goal win over the Nittany Lions will be a valuable experience.
“Everyone wants to win,” attacker Caroline Wannen said. “This challenging game is only going to help us prepare even more for [the Big Ten Tournament].”
As it has several times this season, the Terps’ offense helped the team take a quick lead. Two goals from midfielder Caroline Steele sparked a 3-0 run.
But the Nittany Lions responded, posting two goals and scoring three of the final four points in the first half.
The Terps’ one-goal halftime lead was the closest gap they’ve experienced at the break since they trailed the Blue Jays. In the second half, the Terps then fell behind, 8-7, with 10 minutes and 27 seconds remaining.
Throughout the final minutes, defender Alice Mercer said she communicated with the attack, in addition to her backline teammates. The cohesion helped give the Terps offense the confidence it needed to overcome the deficit.
“It was a really good experience,” Mercer said. “It was good for everyone to feel like we can lean on our teammates. That was something we all did.”
In their come-from-behind win over Johns Hopkins, the Terps appeared rattled before slowing down on offense to exploit the Blue Jays defense.
After prevailing in State College, Pennsylvania, though, Wannen said the Terps need to remain focused because “everyone’s going to come out and play their hardest,” in postseason play.
“We really kept our composure and just came together,” Wannen said. “Everyone was focused on the same goal.”
All season, the Terps have prepared for each contest expecting their opponents’ top efforts to knock off the nation’s top-ranked team.
But aside from their one-goal victory against North Carolina on Feb. 27, the Terps haven’t experienced many tense situations, especially when trailing.
Reese said it’s crucial for her players to remain composed like they did against the Nittany Lions as the team enters the next phase of its campaign.
“These guys set out to accomplish their goal, and they were on a mission,” Reese said. “No matter the score, they kept fighting every possession. We kept fighting all over the field. It says a lot about them.”