After Emily Sterling’s early season struggles, Maryland women’s lacrosse coach Cathy Reese said her defense was putting the reigning Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Goalkeeper of the Year ‘on an island’ by continuously putting her poor situations.
The poor defense hurt the senior goalie’s early-season numbers, which didn’t reflect her award-winning pedigree. But Sterling and the Terps defense paired up Friday in a lockdown performance to beat Drexel, 11-6, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Harrisonburg.
Sterling saved nine Dragon shots in a performance she’ll hope to repeat Sunday at 1 p.m. against the seventh-seeded hosts, James Madison.
Maryland’s defense also led to 15 Drexel turnovers, five of which came from Abby Bosco.
“Emily is definitely the leader in the back of our defense, made a lot of great saves tonight and … Abby’s all over the place,” Reese said. “… Our defense played really well, just collapsing and trying to limit easy opportunities for them. They put Emily in a position to make some great saves.”
The graduate defender also tallied three draw controls, three ground balls and her first goal of the season off a distributed attack started by Hannah Leubecker.
Leubecker, battling nagging injuries, came off of the bench for Maryland for the third straight game. She didn’t stay there long and scored two goals.
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She showed the talent that helped her score 62 goals a season ago, converting on a free position attempt on the Terps’ first possession. She doubled her scoring total soon after by tapping in a dish from Chrissy Thomas.
Leubecker’s second score was the first of four consecutive for Maryland. Libby May and Eloise Clevenger scored tallies off eight meter attempts to punish the Dragons, who allowed a goal to Thomas in between.
The Terps had struggled on free position shots entering Friday’s game — having made just four of 21 attempts in their last four games.
“We need to finish our eight-meter shots … teams can put you on the eight meter and that’s a chance to make it count,” Reese said.
But Drexel slowed the Terps down after Clevenger’s score, which gave them a 5-1 lead at the 8:56 mark in the opening quarter.
Maryland posted its third-highest shooting percentage of the season when it met Drexel in the Terps’ third game of the year, a rarity for most teams again Dragons goalie Jenika Cuocco.
Cuocco entered the game ranking twelfth in the NCAA in goals against average (9.07) and fifth in the country in save percentage (.532). Maryland started hot, scoring five goals before Cuocco recorded a save, but was stifled as the Dragons defense and goalie adjusted.
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The Terps made just one of their next nine shots but maintained a 6-2 lead as Sterling and a stout defense held Drexel scoreless in the second quarter. Sterling finished with seven saves in the first half.
Maryland would add two more scores to enter halftime up six. The first marked May’s 60th goal of the season and the other came from Kate Sites, an emerging depth piece who has now scored in four consecutive games.
Maryland had an uncharacteristically poor performance in the draw circle in the first half, notching four to Drexel’s seven — but the Terps still got eight more shots off than the Dragons, who turned the ball over eight times in the half.
Bosco’s goal came after the halftime break and wasn’t your average tally.
The 5’3” defender took it coast-to-coast without hesitation — she fired a shot past Cuocco shortly before she was sandwiched between two Drexel defenders and knocked down. Bosco got up quickly and was met by her jubilant teammates.
“Not much of anything is really going through my head when I’m that close to the goal,” Bosco said. “… It’s something that we’ve practiced a ton of times, and if they’re not going to respect you and pick you up, go to goal.”
Drexel showed some signs of life in the fourth quarter, scoring the first three of the period to cut the Maryland lead to four. But Thomas, who led Maryland with four points, ended the Dragons run by scoring with 4:11 left.
Even though Reese’s squad shot at an inefficient 11-for-32 clip and had a shaky fourth quarter it fulfilled its primary task — survive and advance.
“It wasn’t easy, there were a lot of battles on the field that some we won, some Drexel won,” Reese said. “But I think we stuck with it and we did a good job of handling whatever was being thrown at us.”