College Park — Maryland's women's lacrosse team shook off its penchant for slow starts Thursday night just in time to polish of the Big Ten regular-season championship.
The No. 3 Terps scored the first four goals of the game and a season-high 14 in the first half. That early lead gave them just enough space to hold off a rally from No. 7 Northwestern for a 20-16 victory and their fourth straight Big Ten regular-season championship at Maryland's Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.
Maryland's Megan Taylor (Glenelg), last year's National Goalie of the Year, preserved the lead by making all seven of her saves in the second half.
Since the Big Ten introduced women's lacrosse in 2015, the Terps (16-1) have won all 22 regular-season conference games they've played.
Both teams came into the game unbeaten in the conference and they secured the top two seeds for the Big Ten tournament when it begins Thursday at Michigan. The top four teams advance to the tournament with No. 15 Penn State and Johns Hopkins having also clinched berths, though their seedings will be determined after their regular-season finales Saturday.
For much of the season, the Terps have gotten off to slow starts, including their past two games against ranked opponents.
Last week, they led 5-3 against Penn State before winning 13-8. Two weeks ago, they trailed No. 18 Princeton 7-4 at the half before rallying to win, 11-10.
The Terps wanted to change that as they head into the postseason.
"This has been a rivalry, this game and obviously it was for the Big Ten in-season title, so that was super exciting, but we really just wanted to work together and play for each other and come out and make a statement with this game," said Terps midfielder Jen Giles (Mount Hebron), who led the Terps with four goals and two assists.
In the battle between teams that have combined for 18 national championships since 2005, the Terps' Kali Hartshorn won most of the early draws against Shelby Fredericks, who came into the game second in Division I with an 8.58 average per game.
By the time Giles gave the Terps a 4-0 lead with her second goal of the game, defending national champion Maryland had outshot the Wildcats 7-0.
The Wildcats (13-4) didn't manage their first shot until almost 10 minutes had passed. When Fredericks cut the lead to 4-1, the Terps had a 10-1 advantage in shots and the Wildcats had turned the ball over six times.
Only three early saves from Northwestern goalie Julie Krupnick kept the game as close as it was.
Maryland then added back-to-back goals from Megan Whittle (McDonogh), the Terps' all-time leading goal scorer, and Giles for a 6-2 lead. The Wildcats never got closer than within four the rest of the half as Maryland led 14-7 at the break.
"I liked everything about it," Terps coach Cathy Reese said of the first half. "That's where we want to be at this point in this season. That's all I've talked about all year, getting us on the same page where we're shooting well, we're moving the goalie, we're clearing space for each other, we're looking for opportunities to create good offensive looks and we did that.
Brindi Griffin (McDonogh) rolled the crease to push the Terps lead to 15-7 to start the second half, but the momentum quickly changed. The Wildcats scored four times in six minutes to cut the lead to 15-11 after freshman Brennan Dwyer began winning the draws.
After a Northwestern turnover, the Wildcats picked up their fourth yellow card of the game, a two-minute nonreleasable penalty, but the Terps could not capitalize as Northwestern goalie Mallory Weisse, who came in after Maryland's 15th goal, saved the next three shots.
With 21:59 left, however, the Wildcats' leading scorer Selena LaSota got her second yellow card when a shot hit a Terps player. She was out of the game and the Wildcats had another two-minute nonreleasable penalty. The Terps couldn't take advantage as Weisse made two more saves and Whittle hit the post.
Taylor saved a free-position shot from Claire Quinn before Whittle finally slipped one past Weisse for the Terps' first goal in more than 11 minutes to push the lead to 16-11.
"She's so good. She's just ridiculous," said Giles of Taylor, whom she played against in high school. "I have no words for her. She's just the best goalie I've ever seen. … She saves our butts sometimes. It's such a spark. When we get beat on defense and she makes that save, it's just a complete change of energy."
Caroline Steele's goal with 14:20 left boosted the lead to 17-11. Nicole Beardsley cut it to 17-12 with 11:51 to go, but successive goals from Meghan Siverson and Whittle pushed the lead to 19-12.
The Wildcats never got closer than within four goals as the Terps won their 74th straight game at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.
Goals: NW—She.Nesselbush 3, McKone 3, Kinna 3, Lasota 2, Beardsley 2, Fredericks, Korn, Quinn; M—Whittle 4, Giles 4, B.Griffin 3, Steele 3, Siverson 3, G.Griffin, Hartshorn, Hensh. Assists: NW—Fredericks 2, She.Nesselbush, Gordon; M—Giles 2, Steele 2, G.Griffin, Hensh, Hartshorn. Saves: NW—Krupnick 5; Weisse 9; M—Taylor 7. Half: Maryland 14-7.