The Terps (5-1 B1G) will head to Evanston this weekend to face the Wildcats (7-0) in a two-game series that features the top two teams in the Big Ten.
This is the first time this season that Maryland has gone on the road for a weekend series and it will be against the toughest opponent they’ve seen so far this season.
“This game, no matter who is ranked higher, is always a tough one,” head coach Cathy Reese said on Wednesday. “Our two teams are very familiar with each other, both have had extreme success. We have a lot of respect for each other and we love the competition.”
The two teams met three times in 2019, with Maryland taking two victories, including one in the Final Four.
Northwestern has not beaten Maryland in the Big Ten regular season since the Terps entered the conference in 2014, but the Wildcats enter this weekend as the higher ranked team.
The Wildcats boast the highest scoring offense in the country, led by junior attacker Izzy Scane (42 goals) and senior attacker Lauren Gilbert (35 goals) who are first and third respectively in the nation in goals per game.
The Wildcats have scored over 20 goals four times this season, something that Maryland hasn’t yet done this season. While Reese was not shy to admit Northwestern would be a challenge to defend, she continued to emphasize the importance of her team focusing on their own game.
“There’s no easy solution to containing this offense,” Reese said. “Where we are at this point in the season, we need to continue to grow defensively as a unit. Our best teams at Maryland have been because our unit is strong, not because we’ve been successful on one or two people.”
That defensive unit is led by senior defender Lizzie Colson who took home Big Ten Defender of the Week and IWLCA National Defensive Player of the Week. Colson also leads the nation in caused turnovers and has been the leader on a defense that contains mostly underclassmen.
The young Terps defense has been steadily improving as the season has progressed and while they have yet to face an offense as potent as Northwestern, they remain confident in their preparation.
“We’ve really just been preparing for everyone and focusing a lot on our side of the game,” Colson said. “We have such a strong defensive line and we’re super confident in each other. We’ve been working really hard these past few weeks and Emily Sterling is crushing it back there so we’re all feeling good heading into this weekend.”
Sophomore goalie Emily Sterling did indeed “crush it” last Saturday against Ohio State, allowing just five Buckeye goals on 17 shots. Another performance like that would give Maryland a really good chance of coming out of this series with two wins.
While Maryland’s defense has been improving, their offense has been a strength all year. The Terps are led by sophomore attacker Hannah Leubecker who has 28 goals on the season and is seventh in the nation in goals per game.
Against Ohio State, Maryland dominated possession throughout the game but only managed to push 11 shots past the goalkeeper. To keep pace with Northwestern, the Terps will need to improve on their shooting percentage, something that has frustrated Reese all season.
If Maryland can do that and get another strong effort from Sterling, they will be in good shape to fly home to College Park in first place in the Big Ten.
Saturday’s game will begin at noon on BTN Plus and Monday’s game will start at 1:00 and air on BTN Network.