Maryland’s defense huddled around a Northwestern midfielder and looked to poke the ball out of the circle. A collision of players created an open canal for the ball to be passed into the center and redirected to the Terps’ net. The Wildcats’ score early in the first quarter was the first of five Northwestern goals that led to Maryland’s collapse in its final game of the season.
A victory Thursday would have clinched No. 7 Maryland a share of the Big Ten Championship. Instead, the Terps finished their season with a 5-1 loss to No. 1 Northwestern, putting them in third place for the Big Ten tournament.
“They ran over us in the first quarter and we weren’t able to gain ground,” Meharg said. “They’re definitely the best team in the league right now and we’ll just forge forward and do the best we can in the Big Ten tournament.”
Maryland’s defense began the match synchronized, but the unit’s structure broke down once Northwestern (16-1, 8-0) increased its pressure midway through the first quarter. The adjustment opened the door for a pair of opening quarter Wildcats scores to put them ahead.
Thursday was the first game in 10 contests that Maryland (14-4, 6-2) didn’t score first.
Alia Marshall moved down the center of the pitch and leaned on her speed and stick skills to maneuver past defenders. Alyssa Kelbasko dove in front of Marshall, failing to protect the net in the process and allowing the Wildcats’ second score of the first quarter.
Northwestern’s two opening frame scores are the most goals Maryland has allowed since its 4-2 win over Penn State on October 1.
“If you hesitate, it’s too late,” Meharg saud. “If you look at the pass and don’t make it, it’s too late. With this team, the way that they press, the way that they counterattack, you got to snap it around and you got to play.”
The deficit deepended just one minute into the second quarter. Peyton Halsey fired a chance from outside the Terps’ shooting circle. Her shot crept over Maryland’s defenders’ heads and soared into the top left corner of the net.
Maryland found its first tally early in the second quarter. The Terps were unsuccessful on their first penalty corner but capitalized on their second.
Hope Rose received the insert in the center of the circle. She passed it off to Josie Hollamon who, with defenders closing in on her, took a shot. Her ball flew to the top left corner of the net, allowing Maci Bradford to deflect the shot into the goal.
Northwestern penalty corners proved to be lethal for Maryland. The Wildcats notched their fourth goal of the game on such a play when Ilse Tromp scored from the top of the circle.
Alyssa Klebasko, the Big Ten freshman of the week for two consecutive weeks, started the contest but was benched for Paige Kieft midway through the third quarter after allowing four goals. The last time Kieft played was Sep. 28 against Rutgers, Maryland’s last loss. Kieft recorded no saves but allowed one more Northwestern goal after entering.
“I don’t think our defense was playing to the level that [Klebasko] was used to,” Meharg said. “I really just wanted to give her a break to step out and give Paige an opportunity.”
Maryland dropped its final regular season contest and simultaneously snapped its seven-game win streak. The four-loss defeat is the Terps’ largest margin of defeat this season, and the most goals they’ve surrendered to a Big Ten foe since joining the conference.