Still without a clear No. 1 goalie, Maryland women’s lacrosse is confident in its options

Goalkeeper Maddie McSally huddles with her team during Maryland women's lacrosse's 15-14 loss to Florida on Feb. 15, 2020. (Gabby Baniqued/The Diamondback)

While Maryland women’s lacrosse’s 2019 campaign culminated in the ultimate marker of a successful season — an NCAA championship — its end also signified the loss of a handful of key seniors.

Now with a less experienced lineup, the Terps have struggled to live up to last season’s championship run. Among the group that departed was four-year starting goalkeeper Megan Taylor, who became the first ever at the position to win the Tewaaraton Award — given to the best men’s and women’s college lacrosse players.

Going into the 2020 campaign, coach Cathy Reese said Taylor’s spot would be up for the taking by the three keepers on the roster: sophomore Maddie McSally, junior Madison Hine and freshman Emily Sterling.

But as Maryland looks to rebound from two consecutive losses for the first time since 2006 when it takes on No. 4 Syracuse on Saturday, the goalkeeper battle is still wide open — with the team seeing each of its options as capable in the net.

“All three of our goalies are great contenders and can go on the field and be great,” midfielder Hannah Warther said.

[Read more: “A ball of energy”: Hannah Warther’s two-way ability has shone for Maryland lacrosse]

McSally served as the primary backup to Taylor last season, appearing in seven games, while Hine played in two.

This year, McSally has started two games and Sterling has started one. However, both goalies have appeared in every game. Meanwhile, Hine is still looking for her first action of the season.

Against George Mason, McSally notched five saves and gave up two goals in the first half. It was arguably the strongest goalkeeping performance the Terps have seen so far. Sterling manned the cage for the second half and struggled, recording two saves while allowing four goals.

“She’s great,” Reese said of McSally. “She’s able to really communicate to her defense, she’s able to make some huge stops.”

Reese ran with the same strategy against Florida, giving McSally the first half and Sterling the second. The keepers finished with a near-identical stat line, posting four saves each. McSally surrendered eight goals and Sterling seven on the way to Maryland’s first home loss since 2012.

Sterling took over in the Terps’ loss to North Carolina, playing 54 minutes. And while she racked up a career-high seven saves, she also conceded 17 goals to the Tar Heels’ relentless offense. McSally would play the final six minutes, allowing two goals.

[Read more: Turnovers played a major part in Maryland women’s lacrosse’s downfall to North Carolina]

Despite the unexpected results for a typically dominant squad, the team said its goalkeeping unit is becoming a strongpoint of an inexperienced defensive line.

“They’re both doing a great job,” senior Kali Hartshorn said. “If you look at what they’ve done so far, they’ve had a number of saves each game. They definitely make us better in practice.”

Maryland is still working through defensive struggles after a lot of roster turnover — the unit returned just one starter from 2019. As the group gets more time playing together, though, Reese is confident that better play will manifest.

“It’s us getting better at what we were,” Reese said. “That level of consistency when we play Maryland defense, it was effective. Now, it’s just bringing those moments out so they’re not few and far between.”

Finding the No. 1 goalkeeper will be key to building consistency in the Terps’ defense. Reese has said experience will be an important factor in who will earn that top spot in the net.

Sterling has lacked that experience — missing the fall season due to an ACL injury she suffered in high school — and has been with the team for only four weeks, Reese said.

“Emily is still adjusting to the college game,” Reese said. “We threw her right in like ‘Hello, here you are, welcome to college. You’re gonna play in a real game against George Mason, Florida, Carolina.’ It’s a lot to dive into that position, whereas McSally is a little more experienced.”

But despite McSally’s experience, Reese indicated that Sterling will start in goal against Syracuse and said the freshman has a very high ceiling and wants to continue to grow. It remains to be seen who will permanently take over starting duties, if at all.

“We’ve seen some great saves [from Sterling],” Reese said. “We need to keep building on that confidence. We’ll give [her] another shot at this different rotation and see where we are.”

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