Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Caroline Steele’s career night leads No. 1 Maryland to familiar territory, 11th consecutive Final Four

Throughout this season, Steele has been one of Maryland’s offensive leaders and she saved her best performance of the year for the biggest moment to date. Her career-high seven goal and eight-point night, guided Maryland to the commanding 17-8 victory. Steele dominated in her final career home game, capping off an unprecedented 45-0 home record for the seniors in four years.

“To never lose here, it speaks to our team, the coaches, the senior class,” Steele said. “We’ve all worked so hard to get here and we’re excited to go back to the final four.”

Steele displayed her hustle, intelligence and precision shooting throughout giving the Pioneers defense nightmares. Exemplifying all of these with 15:02 remaining in the first half, Steele deflected a clearing attempt from goalie Carson Gregg, scooped up the contested ground ball and patiently waited for space, firing the shot into the back of the net.

“[Denver] played a strong zone, and I was trying to cut when it seemed open,” Steele said. “My teammates just found me tonight, I give all the credit and props to them.”

Entering this game, Denver had the top scoring defense giving up an average of 6.79 goals per game, a product of their stifling zone defense. Throughout the first half, Maryland did a great job of not clogging the middle and finding open cutters. As a result of the Terps offensive aggressiveness, Maryland had four free position opportunities and three man-up opportunities. In addition to efficient shooting, the Terps also won 18 of 27 draw controls a point of emphasis throughout the season.

“We came off a couple games, where our eight-meter percentage wasn’t above 50 percent and it needs to be,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “To be able to finish on those opportunities is important and that’s something we’ve been talking about all season especially these past couple of weeks.”

The first 13 minutes was a back and forth affair, however, Maryland scored the opening goal for the first time in eight games.

“[Scoring the first goal] was big, our focus this week has been coming off on the first whistle and starting off on fire,” Steele said. “I think that first goal was a really big one for us.”

Jen Giles got things started for the Terps, scoring on a free position opportunity, the first of several in the first half for Maryland. Displaying her toughness and physicality Bea Behrins tied up the score shortly after, dodging through several Terps defenders for the tough finish.

After Erica Evans scored consecutive goals for Maryland, Denver bounced back once again cutting the lead to one. Evans first goal was on a perfectly timed cut in the slot and the second was on a free position opportunity from straight on. Shortly after, senior attacker Kendra Launza scored for the Pioneers on a well-timed backdoor cut on the pretty behind-the-back feed from sophomore attacker Hannah Liddy.

The remainder of the first half, Steele and Brindi Griffin took over scoring six unanswered goals in 16 minutes. During the run, Maryland’s defense was also outstanding suffocating the Pioneer offense leaving them little space to maneuver and make decisions.

“I think our defense did a good job of crashing in, we made it difficult for them to get a good shot off,” Reese said. “I thought we did a nice job, of just getting a stick on their eight-meter shots.”

To begin the run, Grace Griffin fed Steele right on the doorstep who patiently waited for Gregg to move out of position and buried the shot into the back of the net. After Steele’s second consecutive goal, Brindi Griffin scored her first finding herself in the right place at the time burying the near crease shot.

Continuing to put on a show, Steele scored two more goals as the first half winded down giving Maryland a comfortable 8-2 lead. The first goal, was a beautiful backhand shot all in the same motion as the catch, the second a pure showing of determination fighting for the loose ground ball off the ride and completing the play. To cap off the first half, Brindi Griffin displayed her flashiness finishing with a backhand shot followed up by a Pioneer goal from sophomore attacker Quintin-Hoch Bullen giving Maryland a 9-3 halftime lead.

Starting off the second half, Maryland picked up right where they left off offensively Steele and Evans each scored goals. Both Evans and Steele displayed their ability to finish in-tight, despite being hounded by opposing defenders. Continuing to battle, Hoch-Bullen scored her second goal of the game bringing the Pioneers to within seven the closest they would come the remainder of the game.

With 23:58 remaining, Steele scored a goal she will never forget career goal No. 200 just the seventh Terp to ever do so. Continuing the offensive onslaught, Brindi Griffin scored goals three and four of the game each displaying sensational footwork and dodging ability putting Maryland back on top by ten. Down the stretch, the Terps and Pioneers exchanged goals. For Maryland, the senior duo of Meghan Siverson and Kelsey Cummings scored their first goals, while senior attacker Julia Feiss scored two for the Pioneers.

Cummings’ goal her third of the season, was a great way to cap off the game for Maryland with all the senior offensive players scoring a goal. Maryland will now get an opportunity for revenge, taking on No. 4 seed Northwestern on the same field the Wildcats won the Big Ten Championship 16-11 on May 5.