In the end, it was the beginning that killed Northwestern Thursday evening in College Park, MD. Against the No. 1 Terrapins, Northwestern needed to start well, but quickly ended up down 4 goals, five minutes into its Big Ten conference opener and could never quite regain control and ultimately lost, 17-4. This loss puts the Wildcats under .500 for the first time this late in the season since 2002, just the second season of competing at the varsity level for the program after it was resurrected.
Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and her team undoubtedly wish they could have the first five minutes back. Maryland raced out to a 4-0 lead with 25 minutes left in the first half, scoring in a variety of ways. The first goal was the result of excellent ball movement, the second was a transition goal resulting from a Wildcat turnover while the third was an impressive solo goal from the team's star, senior Taylor Cummings.
The rest of the first half, however, Northwestern began playing better and was able to slowly crawl its way back, ending the half on a 2-1 run to go into the break down 5-2.
"Maryland does a good job at creating flurries for themselves," Amonte Hiller said at the half. "They got those four goals early, but other than that, we did a good job to hold them."
Northwestern's goals came courtesy of junior Kaleigh Craig, stutter-stepping her way from behind the goal, past her defender and finishing for her 100th career goal, and sophomore Shelby Fredericks, who scored with 28 seconds left with a deep shot from behind the half from behind the 8 meter line. Fredericks has been playing perhaps the best lacrosse of her career the last few games, doing well in the draw control circle as well as being heavily involved in the offense. While she kept up her high level of play during this game, it was not enough to overcome Maryland's overwhelming talent.
Unfortunately for the visitors, the second half did not start too well, either.
Three minutes in, Cummings had scored two goals for the Terrapins, completing her hat-trick on a free position shot when she used a burst of speed to explode past the defense and finish low, extending her team's lead to 7-2. Cummings would finish with five goals on the night.
Northwestern had one last push, when junior Danita Stroup received a pass near the goal from Fredericks and surprised the defense, finishing past the keeper with a nifty underhand shot. That goal made it 7-3 with 23:57 left in the game, only a four goal deficit. But Maryland responded quickly and emphatically, scoring four goals in the next 2:30 of game play, doubling its lead to eight and effectively ending this match as a contest.
The rest of the game, Maryland showed off its incredible speed and depth, repeatedly scoring goals on the break in between impressive stands on defense, stifling Northwestern's offense and holding the visitors to only 4 goals. The Terrapins finished with six different players scoring on the night en route to its dominant 13-goal victory.
In another sour note for the day, shortly before the game started, it was announced standout junior Sheila Nesselbush will miss the remainder of the season with a lower-body injury. It was truly an evening to forget for Northwestern.
A collapse in College Park
Despite the lopsided final score, this was a game at halftime and the team has to be wondering how they let this one get so out of hand so quickly. Northwestern routinely plays one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country. The benefits of such a schedule are supposed to come in handy in situations like this, down at the half, on the road against a tough opponent. Unfortunately, Northwestern seemed to lose any mental fortitude after Maryland's four goal outburst and ended up going down with a whimper, in what was a chance to turn this season around after a rough start. Northwestern has not been under .500 this late in the season for over a decade and after losing its Big Ten opener, that is exactly where the Wildcats find themselves.
A tale of two halves
What was so confounding about this game was the performance of the Wildcats' defense, half to half. In the first half, although the Terrapins started quickly, holding that talented of an offense to only five goals is one of the team's most impressive feats on the season. That defensive first half is going to be one of the few silver linings from this game. Going into the break, although Maryland was firmly in control, it felt like Northwestern could wrestle the game back with a good-to-great second half. Indeed, the Wildcats hit the post on at least four shots in the first half; if even two of those went it, it would have been only a one goal deficit at halftime. Instead, it was an utter collapse by the defense in the second half. By the end of the game, Northwestern defenders were only lazily moving their sticks in a half-hearted attempt to slow the Maryland playing whizzing past them to continually torment the net-minder, Weisse.
Fredericks shines bright
Another positive Amonte Hiller and the coaching staff can take away from this road loss is the continued high level of play from sophomore Shelby Fredericks. Early in the season, the draw control circle was a place of concern for Amonte Hiller, but ever since halftime of the game against Marquette, Fredericks has been much more focused on the field, winning an average of 8.5 draw controls per game in her last three contests coming into this game. Against the supremely talented Cummings and her teammates, Fredericks more than held her own again, as Northwestern almost broke even on the draw controls, ending up with a 13-10 deficit in the circle. On top of that, Fredericks added a huge goal (at the time) right before halftime to cut the deficit to three and added an assist in the second half as the most effective Wildcat attacker.