Maryland women’s lacrosse’s pregame routine is consistent. Every player stretches, goes through position-based drills in different groups and then gathers for the starting lineup announcement.

Each player dons the same attire during the preparation period — a black long-sleeve shirt with a big, red Maryland “M” logo taking up the front of the pullover, and an outline of the state plastered on the entire backside.

But a reminder of last season’s failures is also present on the warmup shirt.

Text reading “4TH QUARTER” lines the bottom of the right-hand sleeve. It’s a nod to the multiple times the Terps couldn’t hold onto late leads in 2023.

Maryland enters the Big Ten tournament on Saturday knowing what it didn’t accomplish a season ago. Its new motto drives the Terps, specifically their defense, to succeed in late-game scenarios.

“We had a lot of one-goal losses,” goalie Emily Sterling said. “A big focus of ours all season has been finishing the game, winning the fourth quarter.”

Maryland’s 2023 season ended with a final-quarter collapse against James Madison in the NCAA tournament second round. The Dukes scored the last five goals in the Terps’ one-goal, season-ending loss.

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That wasn’t the only occurrence of Maryland faltering down the stretch in games.

The Terps surrendered five fourth-quarter scores to Penn State in a five-goal loss. They also conceded nine goals — and scored just two — in the second half of a 13-6 loss to Northwestern after entering halftime tied.

Maryland gave up 57 goals in the fourth quarter last year. It was the most out of any quarter, tied with the first frame.

Its defense drastically improved on that number this season despite letting late leads slip away against Florida and Penn State.

“Our [defensive] unit has continued to just get better as we’ve gone through the season,” coach Cathy Reese said. “They’re more confident, they trust each other … Every defensive stop that we can get is a huge opportunity for us to be able to take advantage of.”

The Terps enter the postseason yielding just 31 fourth-quarter scores in 16 games. Their lock-down defense helped keep leads against multiple ranked opponents throughout the year.

[Maryland women’s lacrosse’s offense shined in regular season finale]

Maryland began the final period with a three-goal lead against then-No. 10 Denver. The Terps’ attack stalled and was scoreless, but their defense maintained the slim advantage to earn the victory.

Maryland forced four Pioneer turnovers and Sterling notched two saves.

Its defensive unit posted a similar output later in the season against then-No. 2 Michigan. The Terps kept the Wolverines’ attack without a goal in the fourth to collect another ranked win.

Maryland’s experienced defense ranks inside the top-15 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just under nine goals per game. It’s the second-best mark in the Big Ten, only trailing Michigan who ranks first in the country.

But one bad closing quarter could cause Maryland’s season to end prematurely for the second consecutive year. The Terps start each game with the memory of last season’s capitulation. They don’t want to repeat it.

“All we’re really guaranteed is the next game,” Sterling said. “Now it’s just exciting to be able to put our mindset to the test a little bit.”