Maryland senior Zoe Stukenberg summed up the No. 1 Terps women's lacrosse team's 18-8 victory over No. 3 Florida Wednesday afternoon with a quote coach Cathy Reese recently shared with her team.
"Cathy said someone told her, 'Defense wins championships; offense determines by how much,' and I think that was pretty accurate. In the first half, defense was keeping us in the lead and offense was determining by how much, and it wasn't by as much as we would have liked," said the Marriotts Ridge graduate who led the Terps (10-0) with five goals.
Goalie Megan Taylor (Glenelg) made 15 of her career-high 20 saves in the first half as the Terps led just 6-3. She had a lot of help from her field defense in holding two of Florida's top three scorers, Mollie Stevens and All-American Sammi Burgess (McDonogh), to a single assist each.
The Gators (8-2) came into the game with 11 straight road wins, but Maryland's Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex is the most daunting home-field advantage in Division I women's lacrosse. The Terps have won 58 straight there and are 112-2 at home under Reese.
The Terps are 3-0 against Florida, which had boasted the nation's top scoring offense, averaging 16.67 goals.
Maryland's defense took the spark out of that right away and held the Gators to their lowest output of the season. Florida didn't score for the first 14:03. By the time Allie Pavinelli scored on the Gators' 12th shot, Taylor had made seven saves.
The sophomore, last season's Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, got a lot of help from a defense led by Nadine Hadnagy, Julia Braig (St. Paul's) and Morgan Torggler (Severna Park) in forcing the Gators to shoot from tough angles, but she made spectacular stops too throughout the game.
"I think Megan Taylor consistently is just pushing the limits of what we can expect from a goalie," said Stukenberg, a midfielder who also plays on the defensive end. "She consistently makes saves that are complete game-changers. She changes the whole momentum of a game when she comes up with a stop like that."
With Taylor stopping so many shots, the Gators started firing all over the place to try to hit the corners. They outshot the Terps 24-17 in the first half and 37-36 in the game, but a lot of their shots sailed high and wide.
"The angles of our shots were pretty poor, and I credit her in goal," Florida coach Amanda O'Leary said, "but also I think their defense did a really really nice job of making us take not great angled shots, but I thought their goalie made some point-blank [saves], some just crazy ones. She's just fantastic."
Still, the Terps led by just three at the half against a Florida defense that was fast and so physical it drew 55 fouls and nine yellow cards. Maryland scored eight man-up goals, seven in the second half.
"I'm really proud of my team and how they stayed composed the whole game," Reese said. "It's frustrating when you're fouled a lot, and consistently and I think for these girls to bring each other up and to take care of each other on the field really speaks volumes to this team and their character."
The Terps, who were averaging 15.9 goals, started to get the better of Florida's defense late in the second half. Stukenberg scored on a free-position and Megan Whittle (McDonogh), who had hit three pipes, added her first goal to take a 6-3 lead. Those two goals started a 14-3 finishing run for Maryland.
Maryland built its lead to 11-5 with 17:42 left when Caroline Steele (Severn) and Taylor Hensh (Marriotts Ridge) scored extra-man goals to bookend a Whittle goal.
After Burgess fed Briana Harris (Broadneck) to get one back for the Gators, Maryland reeled off four straight goals from Stukenberg, Jen Giles, (Mount Hebron) Steele and freshman Brindi Griffin (McDonogh), who had her first career hat trick, for a 15-6 lead with 9:18 to go.
"I thought we were a little stagnant at first," Stukenberg said of the offense. "We have a lot of players who are young, and I think that the top-5 matchup at home was definitely on everybody's mind and it took us a little while to settle in. Then the shots started falling and we started moving and we started connecting on our passes and I think when we do that, we're a really strong offense and really fun to watch."
Stukenberg also controlled nine draws — as many as Florida won —and that was another key to the late rally as the Terps won seven of the last 10 draws. They won 19 in the game, including four by freshman Kali Hartshorn, the draw control specialist.
The Terps, who fell to North Carolina in last year's national final, have beaten four ranked teams this season, including avenging the loss to the Tar Heels and knocking them out of the No. 1 spot. Florida's only other loss was to the Tar Heels in the season opener.
Maryland is back in action Saturday at noon in a home Big Ten Conference game against Michigan.
Florida 3 5 -- 8
Maryland 6 12 -- 18
Goals: F--Ronbeck 4, Sh.Pirreca 2, Pavinelli, Harris; M--Stukenberg 5, Whittle 3, Steele 3, Griffin 3, Giles 2, Hensh 2. Assists: F--Burgess, Stevens; M--Wannen 4, Giles 2. Saves: F-- Hicklen 7; M--Taylor 20.