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Defense stands tall for Maryland women's lacrosse in Big Ten-opening rout of Johns Hopkins

Defending national champion Maryland entered Saturday’s game at Johns Hopkins sporting the nation’s most prolific offense.

On a cold and blustery Saturday at Homewood Field, however, the Terps showed their defense might not be far behind.

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Fourth-ranked Maryland forced 20 turnovers and outshot the Blue Jays by better than a 2-to-1 margin, at one point holding them to a single goal over 25 minutes in a 15-5 win that opened the Big Ten schedule for both teams.

“Our defense is definitely coming along,” Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. “Today was our best defensive game this season.”

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Northwestern leads the women's lacrosse all-time series against North Carolina, but the Tar Heels have turned the tide in recent seasons.

It marked the fewest goals Maryland had allowed since giving up four last March against Hopkins in College Park. What made the latest effort impressive was a defense that returns just three players, anchored by sophomores Meghan Doherty (Mount Hebron) and Lizzie Colson (Manchester Valley), junior Julia Braig (St. Paul’s), freshman Grace Griffin (Liberty) and Syracuse transfer Kathy Rudkin.

“We’re really young back there,” Reese said. “We’re working together, learning to figure each other out right now. We’re about a third of the way through the season, and we’ve made progress every day, which is what you’d like to see as a coach. Still not where we want to be, but we’re getting there. It’s nice to see these pieces start to slowly come together.”

Maryland (6-1, 1-0 Big Ten) improved to 17-0 in the all-time series, including a three-goal win in last year's conference semifinals.

This one was never in doubt.

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About the only aspect that Maryland didn't dominate early was draw controls. That hardly seemed to matter.

The Terps, in fact, lost five of the first six draws. Time and again, though, they forced turnovers at the other end to get the ball back, and twice stopped free-position shots when junior Megan Taylor (Genelg) came up with point-blank saves.

Meanwhile, Maryland's offense began rolling, building a 5-0 lead in the first 8:06, with Megan Whittle (McDonogh) scoring with two seconds left on a power play and later finishing the run by scoring off a turnover.

Caroline Steele (Severn) led the Terps with four goals, while Whittle, Jen Giles (Mount Hebron) and Taylor Hensh (Marriotts Ridge) added three each.

Steele said the play of Maryland’s defense lets the offense take a few more chances.

“Obviously you always want to try to put the ball in the back of the net, but when they’re playing like that… it always gets you a little more hyped and we have the confidence to try a few more things,” Steele said.

After pulling to within three on consecutive goals by Shannon Fitzgerald and Mackenzie Heldberg, Hopkins (7-3, 0-1) gave up the next four goals to fall behind 9-2 near the end of the first half. Fitzgerald finished with two goals, giving the senior 100 for her career.

In the end, the Blue Jays finished with more turnovers (20) then shots (19), dooming any chance of a comeback.

“I think we made too many mistakes against a great team like that,” Hopkins coach Janine Tucker said. “The kids scratched and clawed. We gave ourselves opportunities, but we didn’t really find our rhythm today. That team has too much firepower to make mistakes, so we’ve got to clean some things up.

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