As Hannah Leubecker slithered through and around multiple James Madison defenders, she miraculously found her way to the cage albeit smothered by defenders.
With less than 90 seconds remaining, Leubecker’s shot went through the legs of JMU goalie Kat Buchanan looking like a sure-fire goal. But Buchanan sat and landed on the ball, slowing down its momentum before spinning around to face the net and getting her stick to the ball before it could trickle in.
The Terps were coming off of a one-goal win propelled by a strong fourth-quarter run. But after going on a 3-0 run in the fourth period, pulling themselves within one with 4:22 remaining, the Dukes’ defense held strong as No. 5 Maryland women’s lacrosse lost against No. 12 James Madison, 8-7.
“I felt like we finally started playing hard in the fourth quarter, I felt like we were dragging our feet a bit throughout [the first three],” coach Cathy Reese said. “James Madison came out strong and we didn’t match that level of physicality at all.”
The game started quietly — it took a while for the Terps (3-2) to wake up. Maryland didn’t score until there was 12:47 remaining in the second period and only registered three shots up until that point.
Eloise Clevenger has spent most of her time behind the cage feeding Maryland scorers so far this season, but put the Terps on the board after causing a James Madison turnover, drawing a foul and scoring off a free position attempt.
[Maryland women’s lacrosse hopes to eliminate mid-game dry spells]
Maryland’s offense was dependent on their free position shots to score, scoring on 5-of-12 attempts from the eight-meter-arc, and just shot just 2-of-17 elsewhere, shooting 24.1 percent in total.
The Terps are 22 of 43 on free positions through five games while giving their opponents just 14 attempts, and allowing six goals. Given the number of zone defenses the Terps faced thus far, it’s possible their average of 8.6 attempts per game will drop throughout the season, but it’s still an area Reese says is key.
“James Madison gave us a lot of eight-meter opportunities too, and we weren’t 50 percent from eight meters. That’s important and that’s what’s going to be the key for us offensively when we play against a team that gives that up.”
The Terps’ first goal aside from their free-position attempts also came from Clevenger, after over 40 minutes of play. Clevenger registered 13 of Maryland’s 21 assists coming into the day, snuck around the crease from behind the cage and sent the whistling ball through a tight window into the back of the net.
Assisting on it was Libby May, a reversal of the duo’s roles, who are tied with a team-high 19 points.
Four days ago, Clevenger posted a career-high five assists, four of them to May. May’s six-goal outing was her second consecutive, en route to being named IWLCA Co-Offensive Player of the Week.
But in Maryland’s loss on Wednesday, it was never able to consistently find the rhythm it had in its last two games.
[Late flurry pushes No. 6 Maryland women’s lacrosse to 14-13 win over No. 7 Florida]
The Terps’ attack posted strong performances against zone defenses this season but struggled against James Madison, which now has held its last four opponents to single digits.
Maryland’s defense, touted as one of the nation’s best, had mixed results to start the season — but showed why the expectations were so high in Wednesday’s game, posting perhaps its top game of the young season.
“Obviously we always want to come out with a win, but I’m really, really proud of the way our defense played,” graduate defender and team captain Abby Bosco said. “It’s so early in the season, and we’re growing and we’re seeing those improvements, and I think that we’re just going to continue to work hard.”
JMU star attacker Isabella Peterson scored just twice, after scoring 17 goals in her first four games of the season and five against Maryland in last season’s matchup. That game was Maryland’s only regular season loss last year, as the Terps fell 13-8 in just their fifth home loss with Reese at the helm.
“[Peterson’s] been a fun player to watch and a hell of a hard player to defend,” Reese said ahead of Wednesday’s game. “You know she’s going to score, it’s not really taken out [by any defense], it’s [about] making sure our team can try to play together to limit the opportunities.”
As the final buzzer sounded, Reese’s squad had suffered the same fate as last season. The loss moved the team to 3-2, already matching their total number of losses from a year ago.