Alyssa Klebasko stood in front of her net facing double overtime of the Big Ten Tournament championship. After successfully stopping over a dozen penalty corners to that point, Northwestern finally put one through, the shot skimming over her pads and ending Maryland’s title hopes.
The Terps fell, 1-0, to the Wildcats in Sunday’s conference tournament championship. A win would have been their third title since joining the conference and first in five years. Instead, their chase for championship No. 3 continues.
“To compete in the final was a desired step and something we wanted to do from last year,” coach Missy Meharg said. “I applaud Northwestern. They brought together a lot of shots on goal.”
Both teams came into Sunday with momentum. Top-seeded Northwestern entered on a 17-game winning streak. Three-seed Maryland won 10 of its last 11, the only loss a four-goal defeat from the Wildcats just 10 days ago.
This stage isn’t new for the Terps. They’ve advanced to the conference title game in five of their 10 seasons in the Big Ten and won two of them, the latest in 2018.
Maura Verleg and Rayne Wright began the match as a strong duo on the backline. Their slew of defensive stops early generated offensive chances for Maryland, but it never capitalized in a scoreless first half.
Verleg, Wright, and the rest of Maryland’s defensive prowess made the championship battle different from the teams’ last meeting. In that one, the Terps’ final regular season game, they allowed a season-high five goals, including two in the first quarter. Sunday, Northwestern was held scoreless in the opening half.
“They just keep surprising us,” Meharg said. “Their one-on-one defense, they’re so gritty. The thing about Northwestern is the speed at which the ball carriers bring the ball into you. … Today, there was a lot of speed coming at us.”
The Wildcats have received 156 penalty corners this season, fourth-most in the country. But Maryland contained that method of offense early and allowed just three corners in the first half, and none ended in scores.
Alyssa Klebasko was tested early and often Sunday but improved from her effort the last time Maryland faced Northwestern, a game she was benched in the third quarter. The goaltender finished with nine saves on 11 Wildcats’ shots on goal.
Northwestern’s shots became more dangerous after halftime to put increased stress on Klebasko. A Wildcat shot off a penalty corner early in the third quarter bounced over Klebasko’s stick but was tackled by Hannah Boss for a goal line save, and the scoreless tie remained into the fourth quarter.
Even with Hope Rose out for a chunk of the third and fourth quarters after receiving a yellow card, Maryland kept Northwestern out of the net. The Wildcats took eight corners and outshot the Terps 14-4 in regulation, but a strong Maryland defense sent the championship match to overtime.
“When we set them up and we made tackles outside the circle, we were super successful,” Meharg said. “And when we let them generate that next phase of speed into our circle, we just gave up a lot of penalty corners.”
Klebasko persisted as a dominant force in the cage with just six players in front of her during overtime. Both teams had significant chances in each other’s circle — Northwestern had six corner opportunities in the first overtime. But with Maryland’s continued strong defense and offense that couldn’t break through, the scoreless tie reached double overtime.
“This is our second time in the whole season we’ve gone to 7v7, and you learn a lot from that opportunity,” Meharg said. “We had every chance to win the game.”
Northwestern had a surplus of penalty corners during overtime and regulation while Maryland lagged behind. The Terps notched just their second corner in double overtime, a backhanded shot by Hannah Boss that soared over the net for a failed opportunity.
Maryland’s missed chances finally caught up to it in the final minutes of double overtime. Olivia Bent-Cole’s game-winning score handed the Terps their second loss to Northwestern in the last 10 days and continued their stretch of five seasons since their last conference tournament title.