By Tim Hackett
Northwestern and Maryland, perhaps the two greatest programs in women’s collegiate lacrosse since the turn of the millennium, played nine times between 2013 and 2019. Some of the games were close. Many of them were not. All of them were won by Maryland.
Not this time.
Maryland beat Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament finals in 2016 and 2017.
Not this time.
When these two teams played earlier this season in Evanston, Maryland battled through an early deficit, a serious thunderstorm, a change of venue from Martin Stadium inside to Ryan Fieldhouse, and ultimately showed, once again, why it is one of the best teams in the country in a comeback 17-13 win.
Not this time.
On the strength of a dominant midfield, a clinical offense and a red-hot senior goaltender, the Northwestern Wildcats defeated the Maryland Terrapins 16-11 in the Big Ten Women’s Lacrosse Tournament Championship at Homewood Field on Sunday in Baltimore.
Last month in Evanston, the Terrapins dominated possession, put up 12 more shots, picked up seven more ground balls, and kept the draw control battle to within two after falling behind early. Not this time. On Sunday in Baltimore, Brennan Dwyer beat Kali Hartshorn for the opening draw, Northwestern gained the zone, and Izzy Scane beat all-world goaltender Megan Taylor for the opening tally just 22 seconds in. Game on.
Maryland hung around for much of the first half, finally getting the score back to within 5-4 on a woman-up goal by Caroline Steele. But the Cats ended the first half with five straight goals, including two more from Scane, en route to a 10-4 halftime advantage. Like the game in Evanston, the weather wasn’t great, but this time there was no valiant second half rally from the undefeated Terrapins. The margin was never closer than four. After so many lopsided Maryland victories in the recent history of this series, Northwestern finally had its convincing win.
Many of Maryland’s stars had their moments. This team wasn’t the last undefeated team in women’s lacrosse by accident. Steele had five points. Brindi Griffin and Erica Evans both had three. Taylor was solid as always and made eight saves. But the Wildcat defense, at times employing a double faceguard like they did against Michigan in the semis, held Jen Giles to no points on five shot attempts and Grace Griffin to one goal on four attempts. Resurgent senior netminder Mallory Weisse, who began this brilliant run of play with the surprising start in the last game against Maryland, recorded ten saves, her sixth-straight game in double figures. With starting defender Ally Palermo out for the foreseeable future, first-year Allie Berkery took the mantle of faceguarding the likely All-American Giles and passed the test.
The Northwestern defense held up, and it was no surprise that the offense pulled its weight. Selena Lasota had four goals, as did Scane. Lauren Gilbert had four points and Lindsey McKone had six for the second straight game. But it all started in the center circle. Dwyer and Hartshorn had a great battle a month ago and Northwestern eked out a slim 17-15 edge in draws that Maryland was able to overcome. Not this time. Dwyer dominated from the jump, winning nine draws herself and helping Northwestern to a decisive 19-10 edge. Defender Kim Harker, often an unsung hero, added a massive five draws of her own to help Northwestern get the win and hoist the Big Ten Tournament trophy for the first time.
This was merely Maryland’s second loss since the Big Ten first sponsored women’s lacrosse in 2015, and Maryland’s first loss of the 2019 season. And it was Northwestern’s first win over Maryland since the national semifinals in 2012, a game the Wildcats won 9-7 thanks to four assists from Shannon Smith and a typical do-it-all performance from Taylor Thornton. Two days later, Northwestern beat Syracuse for its seventh national title in eight years.
Now the attention turns to the NCAA Selection Show Sunday night. The field has truly been thrown into chaos thanks to Northwestern’s win over previously undefeated Maryland this weekend, and North Carolina’s win over previously undefeated Boston College the weekend before. The Wildcats already had a glut of good wins (Duke, Penn State and Johns Hopkins), and a few great wins (Penn, Notre Dame and Michigan twice). Now they have the only thing they were missing – a win over a truly elite team. Northwestern does still have four losses, four times as many as Maryland and BC have, but those losses were to probably the four best teams in the country. Was this win good enough to vault Northwestern into a top four seed? Even if not, these Wildcats can revel in the fact that they accomplished something this program hasn’t done since 2012: beating the Maryland Terrapins. Now they can focus on doing something else they haven’t done since 2012: winning a national title.