One of Maryland women’s lacrosse’s biggest challenges throughout the regular season — even during its nine-game win streak — was finding consistency.
The Terps struggled to ever put together a complete game. In some contests, they’d impress on one side of the field and struggle on the opposite. In others, a sound stretch of play was often followed by a lapse that became an extended cold streak. In its 13-6 loss to then-No. 2 Northwestern Saturday, both occurred.
While Maryland’s defense had one of its strongest performances of the year in the regular season finale, its attack had one of its weakest. A 4-4 tie at halftime spiraled in the second half, a period where the Terps crumbled and the Wildcats dominated.
“The Maryland-Northwestern game is always a battle between two really good teams and our staff had focused on that and what we need to do to defend them,” coach Cathy Reese said. “We did a great job on one side of the ball and then I need to do a better job of getting our offense ready, because I missed the mark on that.”
The Wildcats got off to a quick start Saturday night, scoring on the first possession of the game and tacking on two more to lead 3-0 less than six minutes into the game.
Maryland’s defense stymied the explosive Northwestern offense from there. After converting on three of their first five shots, the Wildcats found the back of the net on just one of their next ten . The lone goal came after a foul for the Terps and was sandwiched by a 4-1 Maryland run to close the first half.
Similar success eluded Maryland’s attack, but it gave reasons for optimism in the first two quarters even though their production lacked. It distributed well, assisting on all four of its first-half goals. Though the Terps shot at a low percentage, they generated quality looks.
A shutdown defensive effort, which held the highest-scoring team in the country scoreless in the second quarter, kept Maryland and Northwestern deadlocked at four despite a lackluster offense.
“We had some opportunities in the first half where we could have gone into halftime up a few goals,” Reese said.
Much of the offensive success came from Shaylan Ahearn. She scored twice and led the draw control unit, which had six draws to Northwestern’s three in the opening half.
Northwestern won that battle in the end. It outdrew Maryland nine to three in the final half. With fewer possessions, it became even more difficult for the Terps to find a rhythm.
“I think that we just played a little bit tentative,” Ahearn said. “I think we played back on our heels instead of attacking.”
Maryland had nine turnovers and just six shots in the second half on top of its draw control shortcomings. It logged only 18 total attempts to Northwestern’s 34.
Those struggles overshadowed a strong defensive day for the Terps. Goalie Emily Sterling held the Wildcats to a 38.2 percent shooting percentage, their lowest of the season.
After Northwestern attacker Izzy Scane scored in the opening minute, the Terps held the nation’s leading scorer scoreless for the remaining 59 minutes. Scane didn’t have a game with fewer than four goals this season and scored two or more goals in her previous 30 games dating back to February 2020.
Three of those high-scoring games came against Maryland in 2021 when the Big Ten played a conference-only schedule. Scane scored 23 total goals in the three battles, all Northwestern wins.
And it wasn’t just Scane that Maryland defended well. Hailey Rhatigan, who ranks second in goals per game in the Big Ten, needed 12 attempts to score four goals as the Terps’ defense limited the efficiency for two of Northwestern’s top offensive options.
Maryland’s defense showed its prowess, but it couldn’t overcome an inconsistent offensive showing. Reese’s Terps must find a complete and well-rounded effort to achieve a deep postseason run the coach’s program is accustomed to.