The Maryland women’s lacrosse defense took a battering against Northwestern. The young defensive unit, tasked with halting the second-best offense in the nation, was caught on its heels. It let 25 goals in, a season worst for the group — and a new season high for the Wildcats.
There were far too many goals against it for the team to successfully mount a comeback, but the veteran members of the Terps’ attack still showed out and gave one of their strongest performances of the season, with senior members of the unit accounting for 75 percent of the total offense.
“They’ve seen it,” coach Cathy Reese said after the game. “They’ve seen Northwestern’s style before, and they really stepped up today.”
As No. 7 Maryland (5-2) attempts to brush off the untidy 25-12 loss to No. 3 Northwestern (8-0), the Terps look to lean on their experienced players to give them a fighting chance in their second matchup against the Wildcats.
With the 2020 season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, neither the freshman nor sophomore classes had played the Wildcats before. Only two juniors had the chance to see playing time against Northwestern back in 2019, the last time the teams met.
2019 was a banner year for the Maryland-Northwestern matchup as the teams met three times throughout the year, culminating in a 25-13 NCAA tournament semifinal victory for Maryland. So, this class of seniors is more than familiar with sparring against the Wildcats.
“Playing against Northwestern is such a fun tradition,” fifth-year senior captain Brindi Griffin said. “We always go back and forth. They have such an amazing program … There’s energy on both sides, which is really exciting.”
Griffin got things started for Maryland, slotting a high pass from senior Catie May past the Wildcat keeper. Griffin has become the go-to player for early goals, having registered the opening goal for the Terps in five of seven games.
But then, Northwestern took control of the match and went on the first of its many scoring runs, leading Reese to call an early timeout.
Right out of the halt, senior Hannah Warther heaved a sidewinder that left Madison Doucette stretching in net in an insubstantial attempt to block the shot.
Warther opened it up for a few more goals. May was able to score back-to-back goals — near-identical wrap-arounds with some savvy stickwork to fake out Doucette and oncoming defenders.
Masterful offense on the other end put the Wildcats significantly ahead in the latter stages of the first half. But Warther popped up again to close the half with some inspiration for the Terps going into the locker room.
Warther ripped the net with another sidewinder to give Maryland some life, this time threading the needle on the near post.
“Every shot she took, I was super proud,” Griffin said. “She was finishing the opportunities that she did have on the attacking end and I think she’ll do that again on Monday.”
Warther is in just her second season as a full-time starter. And, if nothing else, the 2020 season allowed her to show off her goalscoring acumen and prowess on the draw circle, notching 14 goals and 15 draw controls. Her role has changed this season following Lizzie Colson’s reintroduction to the draw control, but Warther is still tallying goals, with 10 on the year.
May and Warther finished their hat tricks in the second half, and Brindi and Grace Griffin each tacked on another goal. But the Wildcats had already pulled away quickly, gaining a 10-goal lead with 18 minutes left in the game.
It was a fairly ordinary goal total for Maryland, which averaged 12.67 goals in the first six games, even with leading goalscorer Hannah Leubecker getting just two goals past Northwestern. Saturday was the first time Leubecker failed to score at least a hat trick since the opening game of the season.
Reese said the Terps’ game plan fell apart after the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead. It will be crucial for a youthful defense to stay confident and consistent throughout the matchup, something the seniors are ready to streamline.
“Just staying positive, picking each other up, leaning on each other throughout the game — I think that’s really important,” Griffin said.
The Terps will get one more crack at the Wildcats on Monday at 1 p.m., with the game streaming on the Big Ten Network for the first time this season.