On April 5, the Maryland women’s lacrosse team struggled to score against Virginia. But when attacker Caroline Steele stepped up, the Terps ran away from the Cavaliers.
That was a similar theme in No. 1 Maryland’s game at No. 15 Northwestern on Thursday.
The Terps struggled early, but Steele’s four first-half goals ignited a 7-2 run and allowed them to pull away for an 18-9 victory in Evanston, Illinois, as they clinched the outright Big Ten regular season title and their third consecutive undefeated regular season.
“Our approach coming into the season is just to look at things one game at a time,” coach Cathy Reese said. “It’s really just focusing on the next play and that moment. The group tonight did a really good job of doing that.”
After 15 minutes, the Terps trailed 2-1, had turned the ball over four times and went winless on four draws. Starting midfielder Jen Giles exited the game with an injury and the Terps lacked cohesion. Then, Steele took control.
She scored three consecutive goals to give the Terps (17-0, 6-0 Big Ten) a 4-2 advantage. Her final goal of the period came after a full-field sprint from defender Nadine Hadnagy. The senior found Steele in front of the net and the sophomore finished to give the Terps a five-goal cushion heading into the break.
“It’s just any given day,” Steele said. “We have so many weapons on our team and at any given moment, any given day, anyone can step up.”
The Wildcats (9-8, 4-2 Big Ten) opened the scoring in the second frame, but the Terps then held them scoreless for over 15 minutes while adding five goals to increase their lead to 14-5. After taking time to settle in against Penn State last week, goalkeeper Megan Taylor rebounded to stop nine Northwestern shots, anchoring Maryland’s defense.
Despite allowing the opening goal of the second frame for the second consecutive contest, Taylor said she keeps the same mindset regardless and was found her groove as the game progressed.
Behind Hadnagy’s team-high four caused turnovers, the Terps forced 17 giveaways. With the Wildcats gathering nine more draw controls than the Terps, the constant defensive stops sprung the attack.
Steele paced the Terps with six goals and an assist, while attackers Caroline Wannen and Taylor Hensh each chipped in four tallies.
The Terps delivered a strong offensive performance despite Northwestern man-marking leading-scorer Megan Whittle. She still added two goals and two assists despite a defender draping over her for the entirety of the contest.
Unfazed by the defense’s focus on the junior, the Terps stuck to their game plan and continued to seek out the best chances in front of goal, putting home 18 of their 25 shots on target.
“We just move the ball around, cut, get open for each other and get out of each other’s way and be ready for the right opportunity,” Steele said. “Rather than force it, we know that someone is going to be open.”
The victory earned the Terps a No. 1 seed for the Big Ten tournament, which begins May 5 in College Park. In six conference matchups this season, the Terps outscored their opponents, 109-51.
“We’ve just got to keep going from here,” Reese said.