Maryland women’s lacrosse is rebuilding its defense for 2020 campaign

Maryland women’s lacrosse was cruising for most of 2019’s NCAA Tournament Championship game. The Terps stormed out of the gate, looking as cohesive an offensive unit as they had all season. Attacker Brindi Griffin came into her own, scoring a first half hat-trick. Attacker Caroline Steele attacked the cage relentlessly, scoring and dishing. At half time, the Terps had built what appeared to be an insurmountable 8-4 lead. Title favorites Boston College had no answer. 

The game tightened up in the second. Boston College locked in on defense, clawing its way back to 12-10 with three minutes remaining. With a championship on the line, Maryland’s defense locked in. The Terps forced an errant shot from attacker Kate Taylor, before stripping the ball from attacker Kenzie Kent — icing the game and concluding a dominant season in style.

Of the five players standing between Boston College and the cage, including goalie and Tewaaraton winner Megan Taylor, only one will be suiting up for Maryland this year. Turnover is nothing new for any collegiate team, but the Terps will feature a revamped defensive unit, as Coach Cathy Reese has numerous big holes to fill. 

“People are ready. Ready for their opportunity to step in and fill roles,” Reese said. “And we’ll go from there.”

There are few teams in lacrosse who have as many crucial players to replace as Maryland. Midfield and attacking losses are manageable — returning starters on offense provided plenty of production. Attacker Kali Hartshorn, midfielder Grace Griffin and Brindi Griffin all posted strong numbers in limited roles. The defense, however, is an area of concern. With the graduation of Julia Braig, Shelby Mercer, and Taylor, Maryland has lost most of its championship defense. Issues were further exacerbated when Lizzie Colson tore her ACL in team USA practice in June. 

With only Megan Doherty returning on the defensive end, then, Maryland has a whole unit to rebuild. Yet the depth of Maryland’s squad might make any growing pains limited. 

“Our freshmen are absorbing everything up,” Doherty said. “And the new people on the field… they’re always wanting to get better.” 

While recruitment is seldom a problem for the Terps, this year’s freshman cohort is a particularly eye-catching coup. Maryland collected five of Inside Lacrosse’s top 20 recruits, and 10 of the top 100 — the most of any program in the nation. Among that group, the Terps scooped midfielder Emma Schettig and defender Cat Flaherty, two players that could make an impact immediately. 

And the duo has also made an impression on Doherty.

“They’re owning it. They’re not missing a beat,” Doherty said. “They’re seeing things that freshmen typically don’t see when transferring from college to high school.” 

There are other in house options as well. Junior Midfielder Grace Griffin established herself as a premier goalscorer last year, but had few responsibilities on the defensive end — mostly due to the tireless work of midfielder Jen Giles. This season, without the same defensive cover, Griffin is expected to take charge on the defensive end. Through one week of preseason, her teammates believe she’s ready.

“Grace Griffin has a real confidence about her,” Doherty said. “It kind of holds our team together.”

While there are many holes to fill, Doherty and Griffin have the necessary experience to mold a group of new faces into yet another fearsome defensive unit. Flaherty, Schettig, in-house options and an elite coaching staff should ease the new group into form.

Indeed, Reese has a history of dramatic rebuilds, and has taken the Terps to 11 consecutive final fours. This group will likely click — it’s just a matter of how long. After all, they probably have until Memorial Day weekend to figure it out. 

“You’re trying to find out: What are our strengths? What do we have right now? What can we work with?” Reese said. “We need to find out what we’re good at and build around that.”