Sports has very few givens. Even a dynasty has an off-year here or there. But it took the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic to keep the Maryland Women’s lacrosse team from reaching the Final Four.
Coach Cathy Reese’s program played in the final weekend of the season every year between 2009 and 2019 on the way to winning five National Championships in that span.
The road to a new Final Four streak begins Friday for a Terps team that may not be one of the favorites this May, but one that returns plenty of players from the 2019 team that won it all.
“Our team is really motivated. They’re passionate, they’re energetic. They’re ready to go,” Reese said earlier this week at a news conference.
“These seniors believe it — they’ve been there — they’ve won it before. They know what it takes to be successful … it’s their leadership and energy that’s pushing us in the right direction.”
Eleven players on this year’s roster are either seniors or fifth-year players, including Big Ten Defender of the Year Lizzie Colson, as well as 20-goal scorers Brindi Griffin, Grace Griffin and Libby May.
The Terrapins went 9-6, the most losses in a season for the program since 2006 — the year before Reese took over. But three of those losses came against No. 2 Northwestern, including a defeat in the Big Ten Championship Game.
“We were better than when we played them the two times before,” Reese said.
“As we look to keep improving and gaining experience and gaining momentum I thought coming out of that weekend offensively we were smarter of the ball, we took better care of our possessions, I thought we did a better job clearing and just taking better care of the ball from one end of the field to the other.”
Two reasons for optimism surrounding the 2021 Terps are players who weren’t on the 2019 National Championship team: Sophomore Hannah Leubecker leads the Terps with 53 goals, while Sophomore goaltender Emily Sterling made 112 saves, while playing 92% of the minutes this year.
“This group is just fired up,” Reese said. “Like I said to you guys from Day One, we’re going to be a team that keeps getting better and that was our goal to be playing our best lacrosse in May. So we’re all looking forward to hitting the field again on Friday night.”
The Terps face High Point in Friday’s First Round at 7 p.m. “They’ve scored a lot of goals (15.18 per game, 16th best in the nation) this season.” Reese said.
“They’re putting points on the board, that’s for sure. The way we choose to defend them in our game plan is going to be huge and crucial to our success.”
Other Friday First Round matchups involving area teams
- Towson (9-8) takes on No. 8 Stony Brook (14-2) at 12 p.m. The Tigers were ranked No. 15 on April 13, before a loss to Drexel began a tailspin that saw them drop six of seven. They will have fun trying to contain a Seawolves offense that ranks 10th in the nation (16.19 goals per game).
- Mount St. Mary’s (14-2) meets No. 7 Duke (9-7) at 3 p.m. The Mountaineers bring a 14-game winning streak into the tournament, but they played just one ranked team during the regular season (a loss to No. 18 Navy). The Blue Devils are much more battle-tested, with 10 of their 16 games coming against ranked foes.
- Loyola Maryland (11-2) plays Hofstra (6-6) at 3 p.m. The Greyhounds boast the fourth-stingiest defense in the nation (7.69 goals allowed per game).
- Virginia (8-8) plays U.Conn. (12-6) at 5 p.m. The Cavaliers have lost six in a row, but five of those losses came against schools that were ranked in the top five (the one that really stings came against unranked Virginia Tech).
- Johns Hopkins (8-6) plays James Madison (11-4) at 5 p.m. The Blue Jays fell in the Big Ten Semifinals to Maryland and are led by the scoring tandem of Aurora Crodingley (37 goals) and Mackenzie Heldberg (29 goals and 21 assists). The Dukes are coming off an upset of No. 10 Drexel in the CAA Championship Game.