Midway through the first half of Saturday’s game against Syracuse, Maryland women’s lacrosse goalkeeper Megan Taylor quickly kicked away a free position shot from Syracuse attacker Emily Hawryschuk.

The No. 4 Orange regrouped and recovered possession, and midfielder Mary Rahal fired another look, but Taylor thrust her stick out for another stop.

The pair of saves led to a goal from midfielder Kali Hartshorn to give the No. 1 Terps a 7-2 lead. It wasn’t the lone time Taylor anchored a defensive stand in the 17-7 win at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.

The sophomore made a career-high 18 saves, stifling a powerful Syracuse offense and showing why her teammates call her the “backbone” of the squad.

“She just keeps getting better, man,” attacker Megan Whittle said. “She’s unbelievable. It’s so encouraging as an attacker, having her back there.”

Taylor was last season’s Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year and has already earned three of the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honors this season. All her performances this season have garnered praise from coaches and teammates, but the Syracuse outing was perhaps her best yet.

[Read more: Maryland women’s lacrosse clobbered No. 4 Syracuse, 17-7, with career-high efforts]

The Glenelg native stopped almost 75 percent of the Orange’s shots on goal, holding an offense averaging nearly 14 goals a game to half that. Syracuse converted only one of its 13 free-position shots, with Taylor saving eight.

“I have a pretty simple position,” Taylor said. “Every team I go out against, I just try and save the ball. Every team, in my opinion, is a top-5 team, and they all out wanting to score, so I just go, ‘Meg. Save the ball.’ I just try to do that.”

Stopping the Orange’s attack, though, came with a wrinkle.

Syracuse players use a different technique on their free position shots, holding their sticks below their waists. Rather than take a running start like the Terps do, most of the Orange players wind up and shoot from the 8-meter arc.

Taylor and assistant coach Caitlyn Phipps worked on replicating those angles and attempts in practices leading up to the game to build the goalie’s familiarity. It worked.

“Our shots don’t normally come from that side,” Taylor said. “It’s always fun to see something different, and I worked on it for a little bit. But, in the end, it’s just, ‘Save the ball if you can.'”

Taylor also praised the Maryland backline, acknowledging she couldn’t perform at that level without “the best defense in the nation” in front of her. She said the unit forced Syracuse players to shoot earlier than they wanted, leading to weaker shots and easier saves to help her find a groove.

Coach Cathy Reese also credited the defense. However, whenever the Orange broke through the back line, the 10th-year leader knew “Megan was able to come up with those saves.”

“She’s awesome, and today just showed why she’s one of the best out there, for sure,” Reese said. “Against an offense like Syracuse, who has such powerful shooters and a really balanced attack, for Megan to come up with 18 saves — something insane — she’s just a stud. I don’t know how else to put it.”