Maryland’s Megan Whittle never has to worry if a face-guard takes her out of the offense for a while or even for a game. It doesn’t bother the rest of the Terps too much either.
The senior Tewaaraton Award finalist has scored 83 goals this season, but the rest of the starting lineup has scored 223.
Of course, the Terps would rather have their all-time leading scorer in on the attack, but when she’s not scoring, someone else is. Shutting down Whittle is one thing. Shutting down Whittle and containing Jen Giles, Caroline Steele, Kali Hartshorn, Taylor Hensh, Grace Griffin and Brindi Griffin is another.
“I know I draw a lot of attention,” said Whittle, a McDonogh graduate who has led the Terps in scoring for four straight years. “ I draw face-guards and things like that, but I know my fellow attackers will move the ball and have a more open look. It’s a really cool feeling not having the weight of the world on one person’s shoulders. Everyone can score a couple goals and if everyone scores a couple goals, that’s at least 10 or 11.”
That balance adds up to 16.33 goals per game for the defending national champions, the highest-scoring offense in the NCAA Division I final four, which will be played Friday at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook, N.Y. The No. 1-seeded Terps (20-1) face No. 4 seed Boston College (21-1) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s 16-13 national championship. No. 2 seed North Carolina (17-3) meets No. 3 seed James Madison (20-1) at 5.
Whittle’s 297 career goals rank second all-time in NCAA Division I and she can often escape whatever defensive strategy an opponent employs against her. In Saturday’s quarterfinal, Navy held her scoreless for almost 50 minutes before she scored three straight goals and gave the Terps the lead for good in a 17-15 victory.
Still, Whittle likes sharing the wealth.
“Every year that I’ve been here, we’ve progressed with having more and more weapons,” Whittle said. “I’m typically initiating the offense or starting at a top drive, but we have so many people who can catch and finish the feed with Kali, Taylor and Meg Siverson now. With Brindi behind [the goal], she’s really getting better at looking at different feeds and we also have Steele, who’s so versatile. She can go up high, she can go crease. I think that’s what’s so great about Maryland. We’ve been able to recruit attackers that are happy to fit into whatever position is needed to benefit the entire offense.”
Steele, a Severn graduate, has 58 goals followed by Giles (Mount Hebron) with 49, Hartshorn with 34, Hensh (Marriotts Ridge) with 32, Grace Griffin (Liberty) with 29 and Brindi Griffin (McDonogh) with 21. Siverson, the first player off the bench, has 23. Giles, Steele and Brindi Griffin also have 20 or more assists.
It has never been a problem for so many players who led their high school teams to blend into one multipronged attack.
“I think the big thing about Maryland lacrosse that makes us so great every year is just the unselfish play,” Steele said. To win a national championship, “I think you have to be balanced and I think you have to have that unselfish kind of play with a good balance of feeders, cutters and dodgers. If you have that selfish player who wants to do it herself, it would be kind of hard to showcase all the talent that you do have.”
Maryland coach Cathy Reese, who has guided the Terps to four national championships and 10 final four appearances since 2009, has always had teams that rank near the top in Division I scoring offense.
“It’s something we’ve always really focused on,” Reese said. “We’ll make sure our offense has seven players on the field where anyone can score, because you’ll face teams that’ll choose to take one or two out of the game, or try to, so you need to be ready for five to step up. There are some teams when you do take one or two out, it’s easy to kind of stifle them and slow them down. That’s just always been a priority. We have plays and offensive concepts that revolve around everybody being able to fill different roles.”
On her first Terps team in 2007, a national quarterfinalist, the top seven scorers combined for 246 goals. Although the top two – Krista Pellizzi and Dana Dobbie – scored 55 and 53, everyone else had at least 19 and the two lowest goal scorers among them had the most assists. Even before Reese took over the program — and when she played on four Maryland national championship teams between 1995 and 1998 — Cindy Timchal also built the Terps on balanced offense.
In the final four, the Terps will face teams much like themselves. All rank among the top 12 scoring offenses in Division I with at least 15.76 goals per game and all have a lot of threats.
Like Reese, Boston College coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein played attack at Maryland, including two years when Reese assisted Timchal. Walker-Weinstein has a similar approach to offense and her Eagles average 15.77 goals. Their leading scorer, Sam Apuzzo, a Tewaaraton finalist, has 81 goals while the next six players combine to contribute 221.
In Boston College’s 12-11 overtime win over previously undefeated Stony Brook in the semifinals, Apuzzo scored just one goal, but that didn’t faze her teammates.
“Our attack is very deep,” said Walker, who could have been echoing every coach in the final four. “We’ve got a lot of different people doing a lot of different things. No one’s afraid to step up and make plays. … Some people try to stop the top four and see if the other guys can beat them or try to kind of stop everybody and then everyone kind of has a share in the success. It’s difficult to figure out how to stop the offense and they’re so selfless and really do work well together.”
The Eagles will face a Maryland team that is the third-most prolific since Reese took over, scoring 343 goals, although they almost certainly will end up second. Last year, the Terps scored a program record 390 goals and the year before, 349.
“Everyone’s a threat,” said Terps goalie Megan Taylor, who faces that attack every day in practice. “You face-guard somebody and another person’s going to step up and I know a lot of teams do that, but they don’t stop. It’s like, ‘OK, you stopped me that time,’ and they’re going to come back and they’re going to throw two more in your face and it could be anybody. It’s something really incredible to watch.”