The No. 2 seed Terps (7-5 B1G) will take on the No. 7 seed Michigan Wolverines (3-8 B1G) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.
The two teams faced off twice in late February in College Park with Maryland taking both matchups by scores of 17-13 and 12-9. Michigan won each of its next three games after losing to Maryland twice, but then dropped its final five games of the regular season.
It’s been 11 days since Maryland has last played a game, a 16-14 road loss to Rutgers. The Terps have used this break to refocus and continue emphasizing some areas where they have struggled this year, including taking care of the ball and executing on open looks offensively.
“This break has been really good for us so that we can reset and refocus on ourselves,” head coach Cathy Reese said on Wednesday. “It was important that we had the chance to revisit the core principles and fundamentals on both offense and defense.”
In those February battles against Michigan, the Terps had the offense rolling. Their 17 goals in the first game remains their highest total on the season while their 12 goals in the second game were scored despite poor weather conditions.
Sophomore attacker Hannah Leubecker was the star of that weekend series. Leubecker caused problems for the Wolverines all weekend, scoring 10 goals including seven in the first game. Michigan will certainly be guarding her closely, not wanting to let her beat them again.
Leubecker is one of many younger players on this Maryland roster that will be making their Big Ten Tournament debuts this weekend. The Terps have relied significantly on young talent this season and at times, that inexperience has shown.
“Mainly to just enjoy every moment,” senior defender Lizzie Colson said when asked what advice she’s been giving to the younger players. “Just have fun with it but reminding them that we’re here to compete and play at the highest level.”
Colson has been an anchor on the defensive side of the ball all season, leading the Big Ten in both ground balls and caused turnovers.
She is also one of three Maryland starters that will be playing in their final Big Ten Tournament, with the others being Brindi Griffin and Hannah Warther. Reese will certainly be relying on her seniors this weekend to set an example for the younger girls.
“I think we’ll rely a lot on our leadership from Lizzie, Brindi, Grace [Griffin], and Hannah,” Reese said. “Those girls really need to step up and lead the way for everybody else to know what it takes to compete in a tournament setting.”
The Terps will face a Michigan team that has struggled mightily against Big Ten competition, but plays very physical and gave Maryland two tough games earlier in the season.
Grad student midfielder Molly Garrett leads the Wolverines with 33 goals on the season while senior attacker Caitlin Muir leads the team in points with 41. However, Michigan’s offense hasn’t been explosive this season as the Wolverines haven’t scored over 13 goals in a game this season.
Despite Maryland’s two early season victories against Michigan, no wins have come easy for the Terps so far this season and that certainly won’t change come tournament time.
The game will air at 5 p.m. on the Big Ten Network from Panzer Stadium at Penn State.