Nearing the midpoint of the first half, the Maryland women’s lacrosse offense was stagnant against a physical Michigan defense. The Terps had produced only one goal against the Wolverines’ top-five unit, and were forcing ill-advised shots.
Then, team captain Jen Giles ignited the attack.
Giles’ defender slid over late, inviting her to drive toward the cage. The senior obliged. She tore down the middle, avoiding two defenders by deftly shifting the cradled ball to her left. In a split second, Giles switched back to her right side; and, while falling forward, placed a shot into the bottom corner.
Her much-needed — if increasingly expected — goal gave the No. 2 Terps a 2-1 lead that they would never surrender.
On its Senior Day, Maryland saw its usual success from its plethora of talent, resulting in a 14-3 thrashing. But it was Giles who jumpstarted the Terps’ attack, leading a relentless 15-minute first-half stretch that put the game far out of reach — and handed No. 7 Michigan its first loss of the season.
“Big players step up in big games,” coach Cathy Reese said. “This was one for her.”
Giles tallied four goals and one assist, taking timely shots and providing pinpoint passes en route to an inspiring performance. She forced a key turnover and simply out-worked her opposition for most of the game, setting the tone for a Maryland win.
In the early stages, Giles was rendered largely ineffective along with the rest of her teammates. The Wolverines deployed defender Madison Richardson on Giles, and Richardson made life difficult for the senior, denying her space and opportunities to create.
Their duel was short-lived, though.
While trying to cut off a passing lane, Richardson fell awkwardly and rolled her ankle. She thudded against the ground, clearly in pain. The senior never returned to the game, and Michigan’s strategy was suddenly up in the air.
“Our plan [for Giles] twisted her ankle in the first five minutes of the game,” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said.
With Richardson injured, Giles was given more freedom to operate. She took advantage, scoring the Terps’ second goal of the day with 16 minutes remaining in the half. Giles also played a major role in the third and fifth goals of the evening, finding midfielder Grace Griffin in front of the net for the former and finishing on a solo run for the latter.
“When you give her space and room,” Reese said, “she’s able to create a lot of opportunities.”
The Terps quickly made up for their slow start, leading 8-1 at the break. After the Wolverines opened the scoring, Giles notched two goals and an assist to spark an 8-0 run.
She started the second half with the same aggressive demeanor. She cut and took a feed from midfielder Erica Evans inside the arc, but still had work to do. Giles drove hard to her right, simply outrunning her defender and creating enough space to put the Terps up 9-1 just 30 seconds into the half.
“You’re excited, you want to score,” Giles said. “[It’s about] just taking that extra second, that deep breath and really finding the openings in the goal.”
After Giles tallied her fourth of the game, and 40th of the season, on an almost identical move to her third goal, she dropped her stick and embraced her teammates. The goal was almost entirely her making, yet she immediately acknowledged those around her.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete and person,” goalkeeper Megan Taylor said.
With the Terps leading 14-3, the game began to wind down. Rather than substitute the more-experienced Terps for younger players, Reese slowly added every senior of the roster into the lineup to close out the Senior Day win.
When the final whistle blew and the seniors came together in a huddle, Giles stood in the center. The two-year captain may be quiet and understated in celebration, but she is the definitive leader of a team that appears poised to make a deep postseason run. Her performance against Michigan showed why.
“Jen is the best person I have ever known,” Taylor said. “On and off the field.”