When the Maryland women’s lacrosse team opened its Big Ten schedule with a 17-4 win over then-No. 14 Northwestern, coach Cathy Reese said it was her team’s most complete game of the season.
The No. 1 Terps used 13 draw control victories and a second-half scoring spurt to down the Wildcats on March 31 in College Park.
Sunday’s contest was different. Battling with No. 3-seed Northwestern for the Big Ten Tournament title, the top-seeded Terps turned the ball over 14 times and committed 24 fouls. They attempted 19 shots despite averaging more than 32 entering the game. At halfime, Reese’s team and the Wildcats were deadlocked at six.
Still, the Terps did enough to push past the Wildcats and earn a 12-9 victory. They scored five-straight goals over about a 14-minutes span in the second half, providing a comfortable cushion as Maryland won its first Big Ten Tournament title after falling in the semifinals last season.
“This was a very exciting win for us, and it was something that we didn’t want to overlook,” defender Nadine Hadnagy said. “Last year, we came in a little too confident.”
Attacker Megan Whittle’s first goal of the afternoon, which she deposited into the lower-right corner of the net as she fell to the ground, gave the Terps (19-0) an 8-7 lead and started the 5-0 run with about 21 minutes remaining in regulation.
Seven minutes later, midfielder Taylor Cummings scored for the second time. And at the 9:04-mark, Hadnagy scooped up a ground ball, cleared possession and drove to the goal, breaking through the Northwestern defense for the her first-career score.
A Maryland offense that averaged just more than 15 goals per game entering the contest was held to 12. The Terps’ fifth-ranked scoring defense allowed only three goals after intermission, though, so their offensive production was suffice.
“In the second half, we came out with more intensity and passion,” Cummings said. “We were able to move, cut for each other and get space and put it in the back of the net a few more times than we did before.”
In the first period, though, the Wildcats and Terps traded scoring runs.
After Northwestern opened the scoring, the Terps put in the next four goals. The Wildcats responded by securing the next five draw controls, which they turned into four goals in less than three minutes.
With about seven minutes remaining in the first, midfielder Bryn Boucher split two defenders to tie the game at five. Northwestern attacker Christina Esposito scored her third goal of the half to give her team a 6-5 lead, but attacker Caroline Wannen tied the game at six just before the break.
“We hadn’t played our best half of lacrosse, and we were still tied at halftime,” Cummings said. “[At halftime], Cathy said ‘Go fight for a championship.’ And we did that.”
The Terps didn’t blow out Northwestern like they did in their regular-season meeting. But similar to their first match with the Wildcats, they separated themselves in the second half to secure an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament and stay undefeated.
“Our offense was able to create opportunities by drawing pressure out and then running by,” Reese said. “In the second phase of our season, we wanted to win a Big Ten championship and we did it.”