For the third straight season, Boston College lacrosse has a chance to bring home the biggest trophy of all. To do so, the Eagles will have to once again go through the best program in the country: Maryland. The teams have met in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments, so this is a rubber match of sorts. But while the Terrapins are gunning for an unprecedented 14th national championship, the stakes are even higher for BC. The Eagles are going for their first-ever national championship after coming up painfully short the past two seasons. With the best senior class in program history set to depart after Sunday’s game, this may be the last chance BC has for at least a couple years to deliver the ultimate prize.
Who is BC playing?
When is BC playing?
Sunday, May 26, at 12 p.m.
Where is BC playing?
Homewood Field at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
How to watch:
The game will be on ESPNU.
How they got here:
The Terrapins (21-1, 6-0 Big Ten) cruised to an undefeated regular season before falling to Northwestern, 16-11, in the Big Ten championship. The loss didn’t affect Maryland’s NCAA Tournament seeding, though, as the committee gave the Terrapins the No. 1 overall seed.
In the first round of the tournament, Maryland faced No. 15 Stony Brook—who the Eagles beat in overtime in the quarterfinals of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The Seawolves got off to a fast start, rattling off four straight goals in the first five minutes of the game to claim an early 4-0 lead. After that, however, the script completely flipped. Using a stifling defensive effort, Maryland kept the Seawolves off the scoresheet for 22 straight minutes, scoring eight times over that span to take an 11-6 lead. The Terrapins pulled away to win decisively, 17-8. Erica Evans led the way with five scores, while Jen Giles, Caroline Steele, and Grace Griffin all had hat tricks to support the offensive effort.
The quarterfinal round saw the Terrapins match up with No. 17 Denver. The scoreline was the same, a 17-8 Maryland win, but this time the Terrapins led from the outset. Back-to-back goals from Evans gave Maryland a 3-1 advantage with 21:11 to play, and a 6-2 run over the next 19 minutes that was capped by a goal from Brindi Griffin extended the lead to 9-2. The Pioneers grabbed the final goal of the first period, but the respite was brief. Evans’ free-position score stretched the lead to 11-3 two and a half minutes into the second half, and Denver never got closer than that.
The Final Four matched up the Terrapins with the only team to beat them this season, Northwestern. A repeat of an exciting championship, which featured a total of 27 goals, or even the regular season meeting between the two teams, which Maryland narrowly won, 17-13, might have been expected, but the Terrapins absolutely ran away with the semifinal in the later stages. Over the final 17:47, Maryland scored nine more goals while at the same time holding the Wildcats’ potent attack—which entered the game scoring the third-most goals per game in the country—in check. When the final whistle sounded, the Terrapins were on top, 25-13, and headed back to the National Championship.
What to expect from Maryland:
Put simply, Maryland is the gold standard for women’s lacrosse. The Terrapins have 13 national championships—the most of any women’s program—as well as the most championship appearances, NCAA Tournament wins, and NCAA Tournament appearances. So as one might expect, Maryland is loaded with talent at every position on the field.
It all starts in goal, where the Terrapins boast perhaps the best goalie in college lacrosse: Megan Taylor. The senior, who will be suiting up for Maryland for the final time Sunday, boasts a career record of 82-4. In 2019, she has a save percentage of .553, which ranks second among Division I netminders. The Glenelg, Md., native has incredibly quick reflexes and commands the crease with authority. Much like in the semifinals against North Carolina, BC and its star attackers have their hands full with the opposing goalkeeper.
Of course, Maryland also boasts an excellent defensive core to support Taylor in net. Three Terrapins defenders—Lizzie Colson, Julia Braig, and Shelby Mercer—made the All-Big Ten team this season, as part of a stout defense that has allowed just eight goals per game this season—fourth best in the country. In fact, Maryland has allowed over 10 goals in just seven games this season. By comparison, the Eagles have allowed the opposing team to reach the double-digit scoring mark 11 times in 23 games this year. Nowhere was that defensive prowess more on display than Friday in the national semifinal, when the Terrapins held Northwestern’s prolific attack scoreless for the majority of the second half. Sam Apuzzo—who will likely be faceguarded again—and BC’s other attackers will have their hands full trying to break down the Maryland defense, though the Eagles have scored at least 13 goals in each of the past three meetings between the two teams.
In the offensive zone, Evans leads the Terrapins with 56 goals on the season, but she’s certainly not alone. Impressively, six different Maryland attackers have reached the 30-goal mark this season. Giles is second on the team with 54 scores, but Steele, Hartshorn, Grace Griffin, and Brindi Griffin—who played a starring role in the semifinal with six goals and an assist—also have climbed to that 30-goal plateau, and contribute to a multi-faceted attack that puts home 16.41 goals per game, second best in the Big Ten behind the Wildcats and fifth best in the country.
The Terrapins might have a variety of attackers capable of finding the net, but at the heart of that is Giles, who finished with a team second-best 22 assists on the season. In Maryland’s only loss of the season, the Big Ten Tournament defeat to Northwestern, the Wildcats were able to throw the Terrapins off by effectively faceguarding Giles to keep her from getting in a rhythm. She finished that game pointless—the only time this season that has happened—and the rest of Maryland’s attack suffered as a result.
In addition, the Terrapins are also exceptionally clean in possession. Maryland turns the ball over just 11.64 times per contest, second only to UNC, which BC beat in the semifinals. In addition, the Terrapins clear the ball with 93.4 percent success, and when they have the ball, they make the most of their opportunities. 47.6 percent of Maryland’s shots find the back of the net, the 10th best rate in the country. The one “weakness” that the Terrapins might possess? The draw circle, where Maryland wins just 57.1 percent of draws.
BC’s Keys to Winning:
1. Win the Draw Circle
The Eagles and their draw control specialists have won a whopping 63.1 percent of draw controls this season, which should once again provide them with an advantage over Maryland. The Terrapins are so good in possession and so stingy on defense that BC will need as many extra possessions as it can get to find a way to emerge victorious. Apuzzo, Kenzie Kent, Dempsey Arsenault, and Elizabeth Miller need to win the draw control battle for the Eagles to claim a national championship. After all, the team that has won the draw control battle has won two of the past three meetings between the two programs. In the 2017 national championship, though, draw controls were even.
2. Faceguard Jen Giles Successfully
That was the key for Northwestern in beating Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament. Granted, Maryland responded with a vengeance in the Final Four, utilizing isolation plays to create favorable matchups for its other attackers, but the Eagles’ defense is undoubtedly better than Northwestern’s, and their zone style should at least partially negate the Terrapins’ ability to isolate. Whoever draws the tall order of shutting down the Tewaaraton Award finalist, whether it’s Arsenault, Miller, Hannah Hyatt, or a combination of the three, will need to play well in order for BC to win.
3. Cut Down on Maryland’s Runs
Over the years, Maryland has become known for long scoring runs that simply suffocate the life out of opponents. That tendency has been on display in all of the Terrapins’ NCAA Tournament games in 2019, and was also seen when the teams last met in the national championship in 2017. The Eagles have displayed a remarkable resilience this season, most notably coming back from a 7-1 deficit on Friday against the Tar Heels, but giving up that kind of scoring run to Maryland—especially in the middle of the game—will likely prove fatal against the Terrapins.
Featured Image by Kayla Brandt / For The Heights