Pin drop silence. For the past 86 home games, and eight years, the Maryland bench has erupted into joy at the end of every game. And with good reason. Entering Saturday’s contest against Florida, Maryland hadn’t dropped a home game since March 2012.
Yet when the final buzzer sounded on Saturday, there were no shouts of joy from the Maryland bench. Instead, the team walked over to goalie Emma Sterling in dejected silence. The streak was over. The Terps were a step slow on a frigid Saturday afternoon, unable to keep up with Shannon Kavanagh in the first half or beat Sarah Reznick in the second, falling 15-14.
“We’re learning who we are, what we’re capable of,” coach Cathy Reese said. “Today we didn’t execute our game plan very well at all.”
Although Maryland kept it close, and led for parts of the game, they always seemed to be slightly off Florida. The Gators drove towards the cage harder on offense, rotated faster defensively, and finished more efficiently. Kavanagh hit a game winning shot in the last minute, but the outcome never really seemed in doubt.
Kavanagh came to Florida as a highly touted recruit, and started to live up to expectations last season. She tallied 69 goals in her sophomore campaign — earning her a spot on the Tewaaraton award watch list. On Saturday she showed why. Maryland threw various defensive looks at her, but she had an answer for each matchup, scoring a career-high eight goals and carrying Florida to victory.
“We wanted to make sure we were sending doubles early, and we just didn’t,” Reese said. “She’s a really good player, and if you give her space and an opening she’s going to score.”
Yet Florida delivered on the defensive end as well. While Maryland got away plenty of shots, few were powerful enough to evade the stick of Sarah Reznick. She tallied 14 saves, including two in the last five minutes to deny Maryland.
“We didn’t shoot very well,” Reese said. “Credit to their goalie who had a lot of saves.”
The Terps jumped out to an early lead, though, looking the better of the two teams in the early goings. With attackers Kali Hartshorn and Brindi Griffin closely guarded, the Terps had to look elsewhere for offense — and found some in a much younger player.
Maryland’s history of recruiting some of the best players in the nation is very well established. Almost every year, the Terps dip into the rich local talent pool. This year’s class is particularly highly-touted, with five of the top 20 high school players in the nation.
Through two games, though, recruit No. 74 has made the biggest impact. Attacker Libby May posted three goals to open the season against George Mason — and continued her run of form early on Saturday. She scored twice in the space of 90 seconds to revive a lethargic Maryland offense.
“We kind of came out on our heels,” Griffin said. “We need to come out just confident and attacking.”
For the majority of the first half, though, offense was the least of Maryland’s numerous concerns. Kavanagh was a constant menace for Florida, driving to the cage with efficient aggression. The Terps had few answers, as the junior totaled four goals on five shots in the opening period alone.
“She’s an awesome player, she’s competitive as heck,” Doherty said. “We didn’t execute what we were supposed to do on defense.”
After opening the scoring early on, Maryland constantly played catch-up to Kavanagh and the rest of the Gators. Looking disconnected on the defensive end, the Terps allowed the quick Florida offense to drive and move the ball. With 13:18 remaining in the half, Florida took a two-goal lead on a Kavanagh strike.
But Maryland battled back. A quick 3-0 run gave the Terps an 8-7 lead with 2:33 remaining. It accumulated with a free position strike from midfielder Hannah Warther — as the momentum appeared to be in the Terps’ favor. However, midfielder Emerson Cabrera fired in her second of the day to knot the game at 8-8 heading into the half.
Without the injured Lizzie Colson — who tore her ACL prior to the season — Maryland struggled on draw controls in its first game of the season. That changed Saturday as a revamped system gave attacker Kali Hartshorn an edge at the circle — outdueling Kavanagh for possession, 21-10. But the Terps had little to show for their share of the ball, shooting an ugly 34%.
“We did a much better job on the draw, which we struggled at last week,” Reese said. “That was one of our main focus points coming into this game.”
Maryland switched goalies in the second half, replacing Maddie McSally with freshman Emma Sterling. The youthful keeper was helpless against Kavanagh. She scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the period, both off solo efforts, to put Florida back in front. Things looked bleak for Maryland’s 86-game home win streak with 12 minutes remaining, as the Gators led by two.
Hannah Warther led another Maryland comeback, though. The junior bagged two crucial goals in the latter stages of the game, twice finishing from close range to tie the game with 8:00 remaining.
“[Warther] came out and she was a spark for us. She was absolutely phenomenal. She always has been,” Doherty said.
From there, all offense disappeared for Maryland. The Terps got inside but their shots were either weak or deflected. Crucial stops from Reznick also kept them off the board.
For the latter part of the half, Maryland had kept Kavanagh off the ball — her influence waining. But with 45 seconds remaining, she caught a pass charging towards the net, and slung a side-arm shot past Sterling. The Terps drew something up to snatch a late equalizer, but both Griffin and Hartshorn missed the cage altogether, sending the Terps to their first home loss in eight years.
So, the pin drop silence from eight years ago reverberated into the present on Saturday. For the first time in 86 games, and four national championships, the Terps had to watch another team celebrate at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.
“We’re a good team. We need to show that,” Doherty said. “We need to come out and be confident in each other.”