Whittle's eight goals lead Maryland past Penn State for Big Ten women's lacrosse tourney title

For The Baltimore Sun

Megan Whittle dashed in from the left wing toward the Penn State net and fired a tough-angle shot aimed at the top right corner while she faded in the opposite direction.

Degree of difficulty be darned. This is Megan Whittle, Maryland’s career leader in goals and the Big Ten’s top scorer in women’s lacrosse. And it was her — and the Terps’ — day.

Like seemingly every other shot the McDonogh alumna took Sunday, the ball caught twine, giving Maryland a 14-7 lead and tying her career high with seven goals. Three minutes later, she found the net again, putting the exclamation point on a career performance.

Behind eight goals from Whittle and contributions from attacker Kali Hartshorn (three goals) and midfielder Jen Giles (Mount Hebron; five points), the second-ranked Terps (18-1) rolled to a 21-12 victory over the Nittany Lions to claim the Big Ten tournament championship at UM Lacrosse Stadium.

“I loved our energy today throughout,” Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. “I think offensively we really did a nice job with our spacing and finding openings, and had a lot of really good looks on cage.”

Coupled with the 21 goals — tied for a season-best — was a staunch defensive effort as well. The Terps held Penn State (10-9) to three goals below its season average, including limiting midfielder Katie O’Donnell — the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer — to one goal.

“Defensively we had our hands full today playing against Katie O’Donnell and Madison Carter [South River] … ,” Reese said. “They’re such good attackers, and we did a really nice job defensively, coming together and communicating and making sure our slides were ready.”

Fifty-five seconds after the opening faceoff, Penn State attacker Maria Auth (North Harford) darted into the crease and flicked in the game’s first goal. Whittle answered back three minutes later, as the game’s first 10 minutes proceeded in an evenly matched fashion.

But with the score 3-3, Maryland broke the game open with five goals in seven minutes, including two by Whittle, who earned her hat trick barely a quarter of the way through the contest. Three of the Terps’ five goals during this run came via free position, with Whittle, Giles and attacker Caroline Steele (Severn) finding the scoresheet.

A goal by attacker Carter made the score 8-4, but that was as close as the Nittany Lions would come for the rest of the half — and the game. Hartshorn, Whittle and midfielder Megan Siverson all found the net to give Maryland a seven-goal lead at halftime.

Penn State appeared to find a little bit of life coming out of the locker room, as midfielder Maggie Gallagher (C. Milton Wright) scored three goals in just under four minutes to begin the second half.

But the Nittany Lions still had no answer for Whittle.

After Gallagher brought Penn State within five, Whittle laced a free-position shot for her sixth goal. With 17 minutes left to play, she caught an outlet pass from Hartshorn and finished off a point-blank opportunity, putting the game just about out of reach.

“Yeah, I knew,” Whittle said when asked whether she was aware of her career high. “My shooting was just really good. My shots were falling. Everything was going really well. But all in all, I’m more proud of the fact that we put up 21 points against a really talented Penn State team. They’re a great Big Ten opponent, and to do that in the championship, to put up that many goals is incredible.”

Added Reese: “Megan Whittle is just a competitor. She plays hard all the time and as a senior going for her last ride here to come out in the Big Ten Tournament, she had a tough shooting night on Friday but really rebounded tonight, took her time and led our team offensively.”

From there, the last 17 minutes were back-and-forth, neither side scoring more than two straight goals. Despite the best efforts of Carter, who scored four goals for the game, including a man-down tally, the Nittany Lions were unable to mount any sort of comeback.

Whittle was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for a third time, and the Terps have now won the tournament three years in a row. But they have bigger goals in mind — namely, a second straight national championship.

“It’s really special my senior year. It’s really cool to do this. This is my third one and to win MVP is a really cool feeling,” Whittle said. “But again, we’re not finished yet.”

Added Reese: “We gotta keep going. That’s good. Our season’s broken down into three parts; this is part 2. We accomplished what we wanted to in part 1, did what we wanted to in part 2. Let’s attack the NCAA tournament and focus on ourselves. Not about our opponents but on ourselves, and just getting better from where we are at this point in the season.”

PS 4 8 — 12

M 11 10 — 21

Goals: PS—Carter 4; Gallagher 3; Auth 2; Wells; O’Donnell; Daggett. M—Whittle 8; Hartshorn 3; Giles 2; Steele 2; Hensh 2; Siverson 2; May; G. Griffin. Assists: PS—Auth; Rosen; Wells. M—Giles 3; Hartshorn; Hensh; May; Steele. Saves: PS—Lowe 5; Cunningham 7. M—Taylor 7.

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