Rutgers received its second penalty corner opportunity of the match in the 31st minute of play. Junior Guillermina Causarano inserted a pass to midfielder Lucy Bannatyne. After steadying the ball, Bannatyne took a step inside the shooting circle before lining a straight shot that whizzed in the direction of the goal.
But per usual, Maryland keeper Alyssa Klebasko anticipated it.
Even after a last-minute redirection off of a Scarlet Knights’ deflection, Klebasko shifted over, placing her body on the line to collect an impressive save as the ball took a hard bounce off the freshman’s head – away from the goal.
Klebasko’s save represented the beginning of a defensive masterclass for No. 8 Maryland (third seed), as the Terps clicked on all cylinders in a convincing 2-1 Big Ten Tournament semifinal victory over No. 5 Rutgers (second seed).
Both teams entered the first quarter with conservative styles of play offensively, methodically moving and passing the ball around the shooting circle. While the Terps’ offense attempted only two shots in the opening 15 minutes, their defense held strong – limiting the Scarlet Knights to just one first quarter shot on goal.
“[We have] phonomenal one-on-one defenders,” emphasized head coach Missy Meharg. “We all know in sports that defense wins championships…and [we] were exceptional.”
Maryland’s best look in the second quarter came with just under six minutes to go in the half. Weaving through the defense near the top of the circle, sophomore Hannah Boss powered a laser shot that fell mere inches wide of the goal – keeping the score at zeros.
A 26th minute yellow card against freshman Maci Bradford limited the Terps to just 10 total players for the remaining minutes before halftime. Though down in numbers, Maryland continued to put on a clinic defensively. Thanks to strong on-ball pressure and constant contests from Rayne Wright, Maura Verleg, and Margot Lawn, Rutgers wouldn’t attempt a shot in the half’s final four minutes. As the buzzer sounded, both teams entered the half scoreless.
Three more third quarter shots came for Rutgers in the wake of Klebasko’s tough 31st minute save. The Scarlet Knights couldn’t convert on the first two, as near consecutive shots by Paulina Niklaus and Iris Langejans fell short – the first traveling wide; the second being saved yet again by Klebasko.
Rutgers finally capitalized on the third opportunity, courtesy of Bannatyne. After receiving a short pass from Langejans, Bannatyne proceeded to pop up a midair crossover before sniping in a backhand shot that hit nothing but net – breaking the silence and providing the Scarlet Knights with a one-score advantage heading into the final stretch.
However, the lead wouldn’t hold for long, as Maryland provided the equalizer just five minutes into the fourth quarter. Running down the right side of the field, Boss fired a pass just ahead of a cutting Margot Lawn. In an unbelievable sequence, Lawn accelerated to the right side of the circle before diving towards the ball, then getting a stick and flicking it high into the air – straight past Rutgers keeper Sophia Howard and into the back of the net.
“Big players make big plays,” Meharg said of Lawn’s goal. “You find yourself when the game’s on the line… and players [like Lawn] have confidence that they’re going to perform under those pressures.”
Lawn’s eighth goal of the season couldn’t have come at a better time for the Terps, serving as a momentum boost that was echoed just four minutes later.
In the 54th minute of play, Maryland went on attack – and answered – yet again. Off of a penalty corner opportunity, freshman Josie Hollamon lined a shot that came up short, blocked by Howard at the net. In an incredible effort, Bradford collected the corner rebound, powering a shot of her own – but another save by Howard at the net. Then, in one swift motion, the freshman tracked down a second straight rebound, this time hitting a tough grounder that cashed into the back of the net.
“We’ve always worked on getting in the right position for corner rebounding,” Bradford said. “I knew, when it was tied one-to-one, that we had to finish so we could get to the championship game, and I just put [the ball] in the net.”
Rutgers wouldn’t recover, as Klebasko collected two additional saves – bringing her total to four on the day – just before the buzzer sounded, icing the match in Ann Arbor.
The Terps now move to an impressive 16-4 record on the season, and hold a dominant 36-5-1 all-time series lead over the Scarlet Knights.
Marland heads to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament this Sunday at noon, where they’ll look to get revenge against No. 1 Northwestern and win their first conference title since 2018.
“[Northwestern’s] a great team. But we just want to stick to how we play, and what we can fix from the last time we played them,” stressed Bradford. “We know they’re a good team, but we’re just as good or even better. We just need to play Maryland field hockey and we can come out on top.”