By Alex Mann.
In a clash between the Big Ten’s lone unbeaten teams, No. 1 Maryland women’s lacrosse faces No. 5 Penn State Thursday in State College, Pennsylvania, at 7 p.m.
After shellacking Ohio State 18-9 Saturday, the Terps (15-0, 4-0) enter this clash without a blemish to their record. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions (14-1, 4-0) last played Thursday — narrowly escaping a bout with then No. 16 Northwestern, 14-13.
Penn State has played one top-10 team this season, losing to then No. 10 Colorado, 16-11. Meanwhile, Maryland has played four top-10 teams this season, winning each matchup by an average of 7.25 goals, the closest being a 13-10 win over defending champions North Carolina.
The Terps have dominated, but Penn State will be eager to upend their Big Ten rivals.
Led by sophomore attacker Madison Carter, whose 3.47 goals-per-game are good for 10th in the nation, and senior attacker Steph Lazo, whose team-leading 72 points rank seventh in the country, Penn State boasts the nations 18th best scoring offense.
But Maryland is experienced and rock solid defensively.
Senior defenders Nadine Hadnagy and Morgan Torggler anchor a defense that allows 8.67 goals per game, good for 12th in the nation.
“Nadine is the anchor back there,” Maryland head coach Cathy Reese said after her team’s March 29 win over then No. 3 Florida. “[She’s] really just coordinating and communicating with [everybody].”
Behind the likes of Hadnagy and Torggler, stands Maryland’s stalwart goalkeeper Megan Taylor. She has 141 saves on the season, averaging just north of 10 saves-per-game and leading the country in save percentage by saving almost 60 percent of shots.
“It’s very comforting to know Meg’s there,” Hadnagy said after Maryland’s victory over Florida. Hadnagy try’s to push her opponent wide so they have a small angle to shoot with, “and [Megan’s] always going to make that low-angle save.”
On the offensive side, the Terps will try to improve on there woeful shooting performance Saturday. Maryland scored on 40 percent of their 45 shots against Ohio State — below their season shooting percentage of just over 47 percent. After the game Reese said she felt like the Terps hit goal posts on every other shot.
“We’ll work on it in practice, we’ll do some more shooting drills” senior attacker Caroline Wannen said after beating Ohio State on senior day. “We just have to finish.”
Reese thought the shooting performance against Ohio State was a glitch, calling it “one of those days,” while Wannen said the Terps would do better “on those last two seconds where you shoot the ball” next game.
If Penn State has any hope of slowing Maryland’s offense, which scores almost 17 goals per game (second nationally), they’ll need to slow attackers Megan Whittle (58 points) and Wannen (51 points), who both recorded five points during the Ohio State victory.
“[Wannen is] our quarterback,” senior midfielder and co-captain Zoe Stukenberg said after the Ohio State game. “She does a fabulous job keeping us calm, keeping us moving and getting us into different sets.”
If the Nittany Lions can slow those two, the Terps have other options. Rounding out the attacking unit is Caroline Steele, who has 35 points on the season. From the midfield, Stukenberg has 48 points on the year, sophomore Jen Giles has 47 points and freshman Kali Hartshorn has 45 points.
In the unlikely event that Penn State can quell the starters, the Terps can turn to a bench that boasts two players, freshman attacker Brindi Griffin and junior midfielder Taylor Hensh, who’ve reached double digits in points.