Coach Cathy Reese was impressed with several aspects of Maryland women’s lacrosse’s performance despite the team’s loss to Northwestern in this year’s Big Ten title game. To make a run in the NCAA tournament, Reese said the Terps just had to “put it together.”
The Terps went toe-to-toe with the eventual national champions, entering halftime down one goal in a back-and-forth battle. The second half was a much different story, with the Wildcats outscoring Maryland 7-3.
Many coaches make similar statements as Reese in the early and middle parts of each season — but this wasn’t March, it was May, and the clock was ticking for the Terps.
It finally looked like the Terps put it together in the second round of the NCAA tournament, leading No. 7 James Madison by four with less than 10 minutes remaining. Then, Maryland faltered, allowing five unanswered goals and ending the 2023 campaign with an uncharacteristically early exit.
This season, Maryland showed flashes of why it entered the season ranked No. 2 in the country, but the team’s inconsistency and inability to put a full 60 minutes together made it fail to fit its billing. The seven losses tied Maryland’s 2021 squad for the most with Reese at the helm. The two seasons are the only times Reese’s squad didn’t reach the Elite 8.
Outside the draw circle, where Shaylan Ahearn led the Terps to the fourth-highest draw percentage in the country, Maryland was up-and-down all season.
Much of the preseason hype revolved around Maryland’s defense. The Terps allowed the second-fewest goals per game in 2022 and looked to be even better on paper. Abby Bosco returned for her final year and Reese added All-American Princeton transfer Marge Donovan. Kennedy Major and Clancy Rheude also debuted after missing the 2022 season because of injuries.But Maryland’s self-proclamation as ‘Defender U’ because of its strong defenders had an early reality check when it was outclassed in February by then-No. 4 Syracuse 20-11. The Terps didn’t allow a 20 goal outing in all of 2022, where opponents reached double digits in just four of their 21 contests.
The matchup with the Orange was just the beginning of Maryland’s early season tests. The Terps played four games in the following 16 days after the Syracuse game, including meetings with then-No. 7 Florida, then-No. 12 James Madison and then-No. 9 Denver.
Those games were each decided by one goal. Maryland beat Florida 14-13 in its highest-ranked victory of the season. After blowing an early lead, the Terps found themselves earning a comeback victory with a strong fourth quarter performance.
Maryland did just that. It needed to do the same against James Madison and Denver after slow starts. The Terps made strong late pushes, but the effort wasn’t enough as they lost both matchups.
“We finally started playing hard in the fourth quarter … which is what we should have been doing all game long,” Reese said after the James Madison matchup.
Maryland’s defense began clicking as the season progressed. Its attack, however, did not.
Maryland missed Aurora Cordingley’s star power. The attacker led the team with 67 goals and 51 assists in the 2022 season. With her departure, no Terps were named Tewaaraton finalists for the first time in Reese’s 17 years as head coach.
Junior Eloise Clevenger took a big step for the Terps, posting a team-best 47 assists and 73 points. While Clevenger had a breakout year, a lack of Cordingley’s scoring output left the Terps with a big void.
Libby May’s 62 goals were on par with her 2022 performance, but nagging injuries limited Hannah Leubecker, adding salt to the wound of Cordingley’s departure.
A healthy Leubecker is a spark plug for the Terps, who missed her dodging ability and deep range. Her injuries forced players to play outside of their strengths and as dodging threats, even if that wasn’t their strong suit. May, who’s more of a catch-and-shoot cutter, was a prime example.
“All of our players are good at different things and we need to set each other up for success by putting them in the right spots,” Reese said.
Maryland found its groove after the losses to James Madison and Denver and won nine straight. The Terps scored at least 13 goals in each game while shooting 49 percent across the stretch.
Part of that was due to freshman midfielder Kori Edmondson’s emergence. The nation’s top-recruit recorded six consecutive hat tricks and notched three goals or more in seven of Maryland’s nine consecutive wins.
After convincing wins over then-No. 22 Rutgers, and then-No. 15 Michigan, Reese faced a threat of her first home conference loss as Maryland’s head coach from Johns Hopkins. Again, the Terps blew an early lead. Their five-goal advantage washed away in the third quarter.
Edmondson was the hero, hitting the dagger that extended Maryland’s winning streak.
Clevenger missed that game because of a family emergency and was listed as a game-time decision against Ohio State three days later.
Clevenger didn’t just play — she put on the best performance of her career.
The All-American broke the Terps’ single-game assist program record, dishing out eight in the winning effort. Her mom, Elizabeth “Ish” Clevenger, died the next morning after a years-long battle with breast cancer.
“It was a tough night for us, obviously a tough week,” Reese said after Maryland’s game the following week at Penn State. “It’s been a long, emotional week, but here we are, and we got a lot to learn from this game and make some changes.”
Those individual offensive performances helped the Terps string together their nine-game midseason winning streak, but their momentum came to a halt in that 12-7 loss to then-No. 18 Penn State. Maryland went 3-4 in its final seven games and the attack struggled, scoring 10.4 goals per contest on 35.4 percent shooting.
Consistency issues throughout 2023, and eventually in its season-ending loss, led to an early exit for Maryland women’s lacrosse.
Whether it was playing a complete 60 minutes, performing well on both sides of the field or struggling to finish opportunities, Maryland never ‘put it together’ as Reese hoped. Consequently, its top-ranked win came in February instead of May, and the Terps’ hopes of a deep postseason run ended abruptly.