If you were to ask lacrosse pundits around the nation who they would have anticipated to see in the national championship, most would probably have predicted this matchup. Each team is ranked in the top of many statistical categories on both ends of the field and have veteran laden rosters who are accustomed to playing on championship weekend. Last time both teams faced off was in last year’s national semifinal when Boston College won in a hard-fought battle 15-13.
In the first semifinal matchup on Friday, Boston College defeated North Carolina 15-14 in double overtime on a game-winning goal from Tewaaraton Award Finalist senior attacker Sam Apuzzo. Apuzzo is the nation’s leading scorer with 91 goals and was a vital part of the Eagles comeback. After trailing 5-0 early, the Eagles battled back in the second half to clinch their spot in the championship.
In the second semi-final matchup, Maryland put on an offensive onslaught against Northwestern. The Terps had nine different goal scorers and scored a season-high 25 goals, their highest goal total since 2004. Senior defender Julia Braig showcased her offensive touch as well, scoring the first goal of her career, a massive energy boost for the whole roster.
Several important offensive themes that the coaching staff has harped on throughout the season came to fruition on Friday night. Maryland was efficient offensively, displayed tremendous off-ball movement and won their individual matchups all over the field. On Sunday, the Terps will need to maintain and build on all these offensive principles for the full 60 minutes.
Continuing to be efficient offensively, the Terps converted on six of eight free position opportunities and shot 64 percent. Head coach Cathy Reese has preached throughout the season that if Maryland shoots above 50 percent, it’s a good formula for success. Throughout, the Terps attackers and midfielders displayed precision shooting from a variety of angles making it difficult for Northwestern’s goalie Mallory Weisse.
Even though three of Maryland’s 25 goals were assisted, the Terps did an excellent job of moving off-ball forcing the Wildcats into several defensive miscommunications. Facing a man-to-man defense, the Terps offense knew a key to success would be winning individual matchups. All game long, the Terps attackers and midfielders dodged with aggressiveness and confidence, letting the Wildcats defense know they would not relent.
As tremendous as the Terps offense was, the defense was also phenomenal, limiting the high-octane Northwestern offense to 13 goals below their season average of nearly 18. Maryland’s veteran defense set the tone early, suffocating the Wildcat attackers forcing them into several early turnovers within the first few minutes. Communication was a key theme throughout; defenders and midfielders did an excellent job sliding quickly and recovering off the slides. Senior Megan Taylor was terrific as well with 14 saves, and as a unit the defense held Northwestern to 1-7 on free position opportunities.
Against a similarly high-octane offense of Boston College, the Terps will look to execute a similar game plan on Sunday. Defensive communication and effective sliding will be paramount for Maryland against another elite offense. For Maryland, playing fundamentally sound, not lunging, and keeping their hips square to the Eagles attackers will continue to be a focal point. Throughout this season playing “Maryland defense” has brought the Terps success, and a similar defensive effort will be needed against the Eagles for the full 60 minutes.
Opening draw is scheduled for tomorrow at noon between the Terps and Eagles, televised on ESPNU in front of what is anticipated to be another large crowd.
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