When this year’s seniors on the Maryland women’s lacrosse team began their collegiate careers in 2016, they opened the season with an easy win in College Park. The upperclassmen at the time led the way, but new players showed promise, too. Just a few minutes into the game, Caroline Steele scored her first career goal at Maryland on a behind-the-back shot.
Since then, Steele has kept scoring and Maryland has continued to win. Now one week from wrapping up her college career, Steele recorded a career-high seven goals Saturday against Denver in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, surpassing the 200-goal benchmark she began climbing toward in that 2016 opener.
With the 17-8 win over the visiting Pioneers, the Terrapins (20-1) advanced to their 11th straight Final Four, where they will face Northwestern. As Maryland heads into Friday’s semifinals in Baltimore, Steele and her fellow seniors leave College Park with a 45-0 record at home. They are part of the fourth straight senior class to have perfect home records, a streak that stretches to 87 games.
“Best place on Earth, right?” Steele said of College Park. “To win my last game at home, to never lose here, it speaks to our team and our coaches, the senior class. We’ve just all worked so hard to get here, and we’re excited to go back to another Final Four. We can’t wait to get back to work.”
“I’m going to miss her,” junior Brindi Griffin said.
“Still got more playing,” Steele said.
In what was already a standout game offensively, Steele tied a career high with five groundballs and caused two turnovers, a season high. Behind Steele, Griffin scored four goals, and seniors scored the rest. Erica Evans, a graduate transfer from Canisius College, has added offensive firepower to this group of veterans, and she tallied three goals against Denver.
Maryland, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, never trailed the Pioneers and grabbed a 9-3 lead by halftime. Denver was the only unseeded team to reach the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, and it never found its footing against the Terps.
After becoming a Maryland assistant following her playing career in College Park, Coach Cathy Reese got her first head coaching job at Denver, where she led the program for three years. Reese returned to her alma mater as a head coach in 2007 and has since become Maryland’s all-time winningest coach.
Denver, the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, entered Saturday allowing just 6.79 goals per game. But the Terps easily maneuvered through the Pioneers’ zone defense, outpacing Denver’s goals allowed average in less than 25 minutes of play. Reese said her team did a good job making the smart pass, not necessarily the first pass available.
“I don’t think that we performed as well as I think we’re capable of within our zone,” Denver Coach Liza Kelly said. “I think we got a little stressed out, our heads spinning a bit.”
The Terrapins forced the Pioneers into long scoreless stretches, and Maryland goalie Megan Taylor notched eight saves. The Terrapins dominated the draw and converted four of their seven free-position attempts. Denver didn’t make any of its eight free-position shots.
Maryland also scored first, ending a seven-game streak of conceding the game’s opening goal. The following minutes offered even more promise, with the Terps jumping out to a quick lead. In Maryland’s past two games, an NCAA tournament win over Stony Brook and the Big Ten championship loss to Northwestern, the Terps slipped into early multigoal deficits.
“We came out on fire,” Reese said after her team overwhelmed Denver from start to finish. “That’s what we wanted to do. It changed our intensity from the opening whistle.”
This time, the Terrapins just had a lead to maintain, which they did with ease. Just like the past three classes, this group of seniors will get to leave College Park without feeling the sting of a loss at home. But next weekend’s results in Baltimore will still carry the weight of the season.