With under a minute left in the first half, Northwestern got the ball trailing by four goals. On the Wildcat clear attempt, Aurora Cordingley’s check knocked the ball loose.
Cordingley picked up the ground ball and dumped it off to Hannah Leubecker. Leubecker took off and had an odd-man break. On the break, Leubecker made one more pass to Libby May, who finished in front.
May’s goal capped off a momentum-shifting second quarter, which helped the Terps cruise from there on out with the Big Ten regular-season championship on the line.
In a complete team performance, including a seven-goal performance from May, No. 8 Maryland handled No. 2 Northwestern with ease and became Big Ten regular-season champions, knocking off the Wildcats, 15-9.
“I’m so proud,” head coach Cathy Reese said. “I want them to believe in themselves…we’re learning and growing. We’ve been through so much.”
After Abby Bosco controlled the opening draw, Eloise Clevenger instantly turned it over. Northwestern began to put pressure on quickly, but goalie Emily Sterling came up big, making three saves on Northwestern’s first possession alone.
“I mean, [Sterling] was phenomenal. I don’t know what else to say about it,” Reese said.
After Sterling’s strong start, Leubecker opened the scoring for Maryland, scoring as she was tripped up by multiple Wildcat defenders. Two minutes later, Maryland scored again via Shannon Smith, but Northwestern’s Lauren Gilbert responded immediately with a goal.
Following another Sterling save, May gave Maryland a two-goal lead with her score, but once again, Northwestern scored almost immediately after.
Under a minute later, Samantha Smith scored the early equalizer for Northwestern.
Both defenses stood tall for multiple possessions. With 48 seconds left in the first, May scored her second goal to give Maryland the lead.
“When we are forcing turnovers, it gave us the confidence to go down on offense and put it away,” May said.
After one quarter, Sterling was dominating — racking up six saves on ten Northwestern shots — keeping Maryland in front.
Early in the second quarter, Victoria Hensh provided a big spark off the bench. Hensh drove to her left, got downhill and finished. Kate Sites scored on the very next possession, and in a snap, the Terps’ offense put them ahead by three.
Maryland’s scoring run got up to as many as four, then Kendall Halpren finally put one in for the Wildcats.
After two more saves from Sterling, Leubecker’s long shot found the top corner, and Maryland’s lead was back at four goals.
May scored on a cut three minutes later, making it a five-goal lead for the Terps. Northwestern’s Dylan Amonte cut into that deficit when she ripped a bullet from a tight angle that was too quick, even for Sterling, who already had ten saves.
May’s third goal of the game capped off the Terps’ dominant second quarter, as they took a 10-5 lead into the break.
Pandemonium struck early in the second half.
With the shot clock nearing zero, Grace Griffin shot and scored right at the buzzer. As the Terps’ offense started celebrating, the officials waved it off.
After a livid Reese argued, the call was overturned, and the goal was awarded to the Terps.
Maryland’s defense continued its aggressive play into the second half. The Terps’ lead continued to grow due to Maryland’s capitalization off forced turnovers.
“Our offense is so fast, that when you have players like Hannah Leubecker and Libby May, Eloise, and Aurora re-defending hard and slowing the ball, we can come up with some opportunities,” Reese said.
Midway through the third, May continued her historic day. Thanks to a crisp pass inside by Shaylan Ahearn, May finished with ease, tying her career-high five goals. Maryland had pushed ahead by seven.
“Something that we focus on pregame, is really playing hard together,” May said. “[Reese] has really ingrained into our brains that we need to play within each moment in itself.”
Just a few minutes later, May captured a new career-high, as she scored her sixth goal of the game. Against a higher-ranked opponent, Maryland was in complete control.
“When we step out there together and play hard, and play with poise and determination, nothing can stop us,” May said.
Maryland and Northwestern each scored in the final 15 seconds of the quarter, and the Terps held an eight-goal advantage with 15 minutes standing between them and the Big Ten regular-season championship.
In the fourth, the Terps began to slow the pace as they began to run down the clock. The slow pace wasn’t enough to slow May, as she scored her seventh of the day.
In the final minutes, Maryland began to celebrate as they had clinched its first conference championship since 2019.
“This was new for most people, but then again, it’s just the start,” Reese said.