Maryland women’s lacrosse has had more than a week to rebound from a disappointing Penn State loss ahead of its regular-season finale – a game with immense implications.
The No. 12 Terps travel to Evanston to take on No. 2 Northwestern Saturday at 8 p.m. If Maryland wins, it will clinch a share of the Big Ten’s regular season title along with the top seed and the only first-round bye in the conference tournament.
The Terps will face a raucous crowd. The Wildcats announced the game was their first sold-out game in ten years.
“These guys are ready to play. … There were so many outside factors [against Penn State] where I think we just came out flat, and I as a coach couldn’t get them out of it,” coach Cathy Reese said. “We were able to go back through it, relook at things, and hopefully learn from that. We need to come out strong and these guys are fired up.”
Maryland entered this season as the Big Ten’s regular season champion in every season but one since joining the conference. In that one year, 2021, Northwestern took the crown. With a win, the Wildcats could win their second regular season title in two years.
If the Terps lose, they’ll be 4-2 in conference play and become either the second or third seed depending on the winner of Johns Hopkins and Penn State’s matchup on Saturday. Both squads are currently 3-2 in Big Ten matches.
If Penn State wins, the Terps would be the third seed because of last Thursday’s loss. If Hopkins comes out on top, Maryland would be the second seed thanks to its win over the Blue Jays on April 5.
But the Terps have only one focus for the time being: Northwestern. The Wildcats boast the nation’s top-scoring offense, led by Izzy Scane.
The graduate attacker missed the entire 2022 season due to injury but was a Tewaaraton finalist in 2021. She’s returned to form in 2023 as the nation’s leading scorer and has a chance of taking home the trophy. But the second-ranked Wildcats — whose only loss came in their season-opener — are far from a one-player show.
The team’s offensive juggernaut features the conference’s top three in points per game in Scane, Erin Coykendall and Hailey Rhatigan. Madison Taylor, who ranks seventh, rounds off the four-headed monster of Northwestern’s attack.
“Their whole offense is great, they put up really good numbers, they’re all dangerous, and they all are able to score,” Reese said. “So I think it’s not about shutting out or trying to stop Izzy Scane, we need to play good team defense and we need to try to just limit the team’s opportunities … They’re gonna shoot, they’re gonna score … They’re awesome, and that’s what they do.”
The Wildcats team Maryland will face is different from the one they beat last season. Coykendall, the conference’s leader in assists, was the only member of the quartet to suit up for Northwestern last season. Rhatigan is a grad transfer from Mercer and Taylor is a freshman.
Despite those roster changes, the Terps’ graduate defender Abby Bosco feels this year’s Northwestern squad resembles the Wildcats’ former teams.
“I think the principles of their offense are definitely very similar. They did lose a few key cogs to their offense, but they also gained some really awesome players,” said Bosco, who was named a Tewaaraton nominee Thursday.“Although the game plan might be slightly different, [it’s about] just still sticking to that … their offense is very similar, it’s kind of one that they’ve always run.”
Even with that familiarity, stopping Northwestern is no small task.
“It’s the last game of our regular season, we haven’t played our best game of lacrosse yet, we’re coming off of a game where we were super flat… we’re excited about the opportunity to compete,” Reese said. “Plus, it’s Maryland, Northwestern, [there is] history behind the game — this isn’t just playing anyone. This is a game that I think people look forward to in the lacrosse world.”