The Terps (9-5 B1G) will face the Wildcats (12-0 B1G) for the third time this season, but this time around the winner will hoist the Big Ten Championship trophy.
Northwestern dominated the first two battles between the teams, defeating Maryland by scores of 25-12 and 20-10 in Evanston. However, Maryland played them closely in the first half of the second game, giving them a reason to be confident going into Sunday’s game.
“That first half when we were tied at halftime showed us that we can hang with them and beat them,” senior midfielder Grace Griffin said. “We want to hang on to that and get that for a full 60 minutes rather than just 30.”
If the Terps are to hang with the Wildcats for a full 60 minutes, they will have to play their best game of the season on both sides of the ball. Northwestern has not won a game by less than four goals the entire season and is coming off of a 10-goal victory against Rutgers.
The Wildcats are the highest scoring offense in the country, averaging over 20 goals a game. Junior attacker Izzy Scane leads the nation in goals with 70, including 14 against Maryland over two games. Senior attacker Lauren Gilbert also has 50 goals this season, good for 12th in the country.
It is impossible to stop the Northwestern offense like Maryland did to Hopkins in the first half, but the Terps can slow them down. By controlling possession and limiting turnovers like they did in the first half of the second game, Maryland can limit the opportunities that the Wildcats get on offense.
Turnovers and clears were two areas in which Maryland excelled in on Friday night against Hopkins, an effort they will need to replicate if they want to have any chance in this game.
“Turnovers were so much better than they have been all season,” senior defender Lizzie Colson said after the Hopkins victory. “We really took care of the ball in clears and that was something that really helped us. Just getting the ball into our attacking hands is huge.”
Not only will Maryland have to limit the opportunities of Northwestern, they will have to convert on their own scoring chances. Head coach Cathy Reese has talked all year about getting to 50% shooting; if there was ever a game to hit that mark, it’s this one.
Maryland’s offense has shown that they can be elite at times this season. Led by Hannah Leubecker, Brindi Griffin, and Grace Griffin, it is essential that the Terps offense can finish on the opportunities that they generate for themselves.
Another area in which Maryland needs to improve upon from the first two games is giving up large scoring runs. In the first game, Northwestern scored four unanswered goals three separate times and in the second game they went on an 11-0 run in the second half.
Reese will need her seniors to weather the storm and prevent things from getting out of hand when the Terps inevitably give up a few goals in a row.
Maryland will need to play an almost perfect game to beat Northwestern on Sunday, but history has shown that anything can happen when these two teams meet in the postseason.
At the end of the day, the Terps are entering this game with almost nothing to lose while Northwestern has an undefeated season on the line.
“This has been a rivalry that has built a lot of emotion and a lot of excitement behind it,” Reese said. “These past few games we’ve played with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. This year has been tough, so we need to really enjoy this and enjoy the moment.”
The championship game will air on Sunday, May 1 at noon on the Big Ten Network.