After defeating the Terps, 13-6, for the Big Ten regular season title on April 22, Northwestern and Maryland will face off once again in the Big Ten Championship two weeks later.
At the half of the regular season finale, it was even at four, but in the final two frames, Northwestern came to life with a 9-2 advantage over its historic rival.
The ‘Cats got off to a quick 3-0 lead in under the first six minutes of play, but then the usual hot-scoring offense was stalled. Elle Hansen added a buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter, but NU was held scoreless for the entirety of the second. Maryland features one of the best defenses in the country, but Northwestern’s struggles also came from the draw and undisciplined play.
In the first half, the Terps garnered six of the nine draw controls, and this was what gave them the advantage to keep the game tied. In the second quarter, for example, Maryland quickly added two goals, scoring right off draw controls from Shayla Ahearn, to even the score.
The ‘Cats are a physical team but against quality opponents, mistakes cannot be afforded. Northwestern tallied 12 fouls and three cards, while Maryland had nine and one in the first 30 minutes. Out of halftime, however, Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad came out and proved why it is the nation’s best.
Northwestern is going to have to get used to teams trying to shut down Izzy Scane. She scored the first goal of the game but none after that for her lowest-scoring game since Feb. 21, 2020.
The Terps were quick to slide on Scane, not letting the nation’s goal leader get to the eight-meter without a double team. Maryland was also closely guarding Rhatigan, consequently holding her scoreless until there were three minutes left in the third quarter.
For a team that likes to work fast, the ‘Cats adjusted by slowing down their pace of play. By getting a lot of touches, the offense started to click and eventually found the open player. In the second half, Scane was able to tally two assists and Rhatigan notched four goals. The ‘Cats also drew eight free positions, after earning just three across the first two quarters. Another huge offensive asset was locking down the draw control. The ‘Cats beat out the Terps 9-3 on the draw in the second set with seven coming from Samantha White and Samantha Smith.
In the first half, the Terps scored off quick, flick passes from around the arc. The defense adjusted well to hold Maryland to one goal in each frame by applying pressure and slides much more quicker.
The defense transformed into a solid, well-read unit, evidenced by the shot clock running out on Maryland in the third quarter and nine total UMD turnovers — four more than in the first half.
White and Kendall Halpern were incredibly effective in riding out attackers to turn away scoring opportunities. White and Halpern garnered three and two caused turnovers throughout the game, respectively.
Battle of the goalies
Emily Sterling, the reigning IWLCA National Goalie of the Year, was bound to give the ‘Cats some trouble — even if not for too long. While Northwestern dominated the last 30 minutes, the first 30 could have looked different if it wasn’t for Molly Laliberty keeping NU in the game.
Six of Laliberty’s eight saves came in just the first half. Whether it was free-position saves, like the one to close out the first half and keep the game equal, or denying shots right at the arc, her performance was key to the Wildcat victory over the Terps. The offense did eventually show up, but the graduate transfer from Tufts was the reason Northwestern never fell behind.
30 seconds of Molly Laliberty saves for your Monday morning pic.twitter.com/YBABRn1HKn— Unleashed (@unleashedwlax) April 24, 2023
Tonight, the ‘Cats will need to play the whole game as they did in the second half. The offense needs to take smart shots and make frequent passes, every draw needs to be taken advantage of and the defense needs to lock in to support Laliberty.
The Wildcats will look to claim their third Big Ten Championship at 7 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network.