Not only is the No. 1 ranking at stake, but the winner likely will be the top seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which begins April 25. While the Tar Heels already have the home-field advantage for that — the tournament is in Chapel Hill — the top seed certainly brings a psychological edge.
The Terps head into Saturday with the No. 2 scoring offense in Division I, averaging 16 goals per game. They are outscoring the opposition by eight goals, but the past couple of games have been a little closer than Maryland coach Cathy Reese would like — 11-8 over Towson and 15-10 over Penn. Towson scored the last three goals of the game, and it will be much more difficult to stay ahead of the Tar Heels in a close game.
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"We've been working on tightening up some things defensively," Reese said. "We're going against an outstanding offense. They've got threats all over. Any of their seven players on the field can score, so we're definitely going to be tested. We think we've given up too many easy opportunities and we want to make it a little harder."
The Terps will have to be ready at the first draw because the Tar Heels have been a prolific first-half team, scoring 91 of their 148 goals in the opening 30 minutes. The Terps, with 60 more goals than the Tar Heels, have 113 first-half goals.
Although Maryland is hitting 54 percent of its shots, Reese would like to see them finish more opportunities. The Terps certainly have the firepower, with four players — Alex Aust, Katie Schwarzmann (Century), Brooke Griffin (South River) and Taylor Cummings (McDonogh) — contributing 35 or more points and 25 or more goals.
All-American Aust (43 goals, 38 assists) has 115 career assists to rank fourth on the Terps all-time list. Schwarzmann, the 2012 Tewaraaton Award winner, has 36 goals and 16 assists this season and ranks fourth on the Terps' all-time goals list with 203.
All-America attacker Kara Cannizzaro leads North Carolina with 35 goals and seven assists, while five others have more than 20 points and two others have 20 goals.
Win over Florida seasons young Penn State
Penn State could not have picked up more momentum heading into Friday night's game at Northwestern than it did by upsetting previously unbeaten Florida on Saturday.
The 16-11 win in State College broke then-No. 2 Florida's 24-game regular-season winning streak and boosted the Nittany Lions' stock in the American Lacrosse Conference, where they are undefeated.
Now the Lions (7-3) take their shot at another ALC rival, the defending national champion.
"It's easier going in as an underdog," said Penn State coach Missy Doherty, a graduate of Maryland and St. Mary's High who previously coached at Towson. "As you start having some good wins, your games against everybody become bigger for the other team, so our program is still a little young in handling that pressure of being ready to be the other team's good game. It's not hard, obviously, to get up and play [Northwestern], because they're the team to beat."
The Lions have relied heavily on young players with freshmen and sophomores contributing 101 of the team's 140 goals. Freshman Jenna Mosketti, a Fallston graduate, broke a 10-10 tie against Florida, and sophomore Kelly Lechner scored the game-winner. Sophomore Maggie McCormick, a Liberty graduate, leads the team in scoring with 26 goals and 19 assists.
"In the Florida game, the younger players stepped up like veterans," Doherty said. "Three freshmen, Madison Cyr [Winters Mill], Jenna Mosketti and Ally Heavens, had huge draw controls. We just had possession in that game. For them to come out and play like older, mature players is a normal progression for our team."
Fair winds for Navy's DePompeo
Jasmine DePompeo became Navy's all-time leading scorer after tying the school single-game record with 13 points in Tuesday's 19-9 win at Longwood. With three goals and a school-record 10 assists, she boosted her career points total to 300, surpassing 2010 graduate Erin Rawlick's 294.
The senior attacker from Sayville, N.Y. needs eight more points to become the Patriot League's all-time leading scorer. She holds Patriot League records for single-game assists (10), single-season assists (50) and career assists (146).