After coasting through conference play with a perfect 5-0 record heading into the final stretch, No. 2 Northwestern faced its toughest Big Ten test yet in College Park against No. 8 Maryland.
There are few rivalries nationwide as decorated as this one. Together, NU and UMD have won more regular-season titles and conference tournament championships than the rest of the Big Ten combined. The battle often continues in the national tournament, where most recently, in Northwestern’s 2019 Final Four appearance, the ‘Cats’ season ended at the hands of the Terps in the quarterfinals.
It’s safe to say Maryland was out for revenge this year after the Wildcats emerged victorious all three times they met in 2021, including in the Big Ten tournament championship game.
Northwestern’s offense has been on fire all season, but UMD was able to gain the upper hand in College Park and led the entire contest. Perhaps what was most noticeable in this loss was that graduate student and draw circle star Jill Girardi only collected seven draw controls, her second smallest total since the ‘Cats’ early loss against then-No. 2 North Carolina, when she tallied six.
Maryland attacker Libby May could not be contained, collecting seven goals and one assist. Northwestern only had one player with more than one goal in Girardi, a stark contrast from the team’s production during its nine-game winning streak which was snapped on Saturday.
Northwestern was able to tie the game at three apiece in the first quarter after freshman Samantha Smith and sophomore Carleigh Mahoney traded goals, but Maryland went on a 4-0 run shortly after, and the Wildcats were only able to get two more goals across in the half.
Overall, the Terrapins were able to capitalize on the Wildcats’ weak spots, with many of their goals scored in transition. At the half, UMD held a 10-5 lead after scoring many goals off Northwestern’s failed shot attempts at the other end.
Out of the break, Maryland scored three more goals before Northwestern was able to get on the board. Girardi exploded for two straight goals after tallying none in the first half to bring the score to 14-7. But, the Terrapins ultimately stifled the Wildcat offense, only allowing nine Northwestern goals, a major discrepancy from the team’s average of over 16 per game.
While the loss was a down moment for this team, the ‘Cats are still 5-1 in conference play. If Maryland falls to Michigan next weekend, Northwestern will still have a chance to share a piece of the regular-season title.
Looking forward, this team will be able to refocus and regroup on a bye week before the conference tournament begins. Ultimately, the tournament will hold more weight when it comes to seeding for NCAAs — it’s possible that Northwestern will face Maryland again in the upcoming weeks to avenge the loss for a shot at the conference tournament title and a forgiving slot in the national bracket.