In its most destructive moments, the Maryland women’s lacrosse team attacks defenses like a tidal wave. Eight Terrapins have scored at least 20 goals this season for a team ranked first nationally.
Yet what makes Maryland a favorite to win its 12th national championship next weekend rests in its ability to change gears. On a drizzly Saturday afternoon in College Park, the Terps used set pieces like weapons to beat Duke, 14-9, and advance to the NCAA tournament semifinals for the fifth consecutive season.
“Sometimes we got a little ahead of ourselves,” Coach Cathy Reese said. “We were fast-breaking and pushing the tempo a little bit, and sometimes we’re almost too fast for our own good. We would get the ball, turn the ball and fire it. But once we would take an extra second on that, our shooters did a nice job.”
Maryland (21-0) peppered the cage with 34 shots, wearing down Duke freshman goalie Kelsey Duryea, who despite allowing a season high in goals became the first Duke player with multiple 15-save games in one year. It was doom by volume for the Blue Devils (14-6), whose 4-0 run over the final 15 minutes did little but make the final result closer. Terps leading scorer Alex Aust scored five goals, three of which were unassisted, and captained a three-goal spurt that turned an 8-4 halftime lead into an 11-4 rout.
“Going into the second half, we didn’t play much D, which is always what you’re looking forward to,” said Maryland’s Iliana Sanza, who was honored as the national defender of the year by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association. “Not that I don’t like playing defense, but it’s nice when our offense takes care of the ball and we have possession.”
After the break, Aust notched her fourth goal on a free-position try, assisted on fellow Tewaaraton Award finalist Katie Schwarzmann’s first of two scores and then deked Duryea with an up-and-under stick fake. The lead ballooned to nine when Brooke Griffin and Beth Glaros struck on consecutive free-position shots before Duke’s late, ultimately feeble spurt.
“Their goalie’s really good, so respect for her,” Aust said. “But we weren’t really moving around, putting it around her. Making that a focal point of the second half made us hone in, be disciplined and finish our shots.”
Maryland will next face fourth-ranked Syracuse (18-3), a 13-9 winner over No. 5 Florida, in Friday’s semifinals at Villanova, Pa. For many Terps players, it’s an opportunity to avenge the bitterness of 2011 and 2012, when they fell to Northwestern, first in the national title game and then the semifinals.
“You guys probably get sick of hearing me say this, but we’re one game at a time,” Reese said. “I didn’t want us to overlook today. Here we are, we’re playing a team we’re familiar with, but in 2008 we lost to Duke in the quarterfinals. We need to make sure we’re focused on us and what we’re all about. We did that, and now’s our time to move forward.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, North Carolina beat Virginia, 13-9, at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill to advance to the national semifinals for the fourth time in five years.
The Tar Heels scored the game’s first four goals and led 10-2 at halftime in beating the Cavaliers for the eighth straight time and for the 10th time in 11 games.
Abbey Friend finished with five goals and six points overall for North Carolina (16-3), tying her career highs in both categories. Kara Cannizzaro added three goals and two assists for the Tar Heels.
Kelly Boyd led Virginia (11-10) with three goals.