Attacker Brindi Griffin smiled. Kali Hartshorn slammed her stick on the ground, her shot rippling the back of the net. What appeared to be yet another goal in Maryland women’s lacrosse’s thrashing of George Mason was far more significant. The duo, two of very few returning starters, had combined for the first time this season — starting the curation of a connection that is perhaps expected to be reliable all year.
Yet the Terps had far more to celebrate Saturday afternoon. Before Hartshorn and Griffin found each other, numerous less-experienced players got in on the action. Early fears were quelled, as the youthful Terps caught fire from the 10th minute onward, and never burnt out. Expected to win, Maryland delivered, thrashing George Mason 19-6 to kick off a title defending season in an emphatic manner.
“It’s exciting to come together for our first game, and end up in the win column,” Catie May said. “There’s a lot of energy and excitement.”
For all the Terps’ early success, it was far from a perfect performance. Coach Cathy Reese started the game with three freshman in the lineup, perhaps a logical move given the Terps highly touted recruiting class and relative youth of the roster. However, there were times when Maryland’s overall youth showed — highlighted by some disconnect on both ends in the early stages.
“We threw too many iffy passes when we were transitioning from one end of the field to the other,” Reese said.
And George Mason took advantage. While the Terps turned the ball over on each of their first four possessions, George Mason strung together some more promising attempts. Thus, when Mason Folker found the net to give the home team a 1-0 lead, it was unsurprising, if not deserved.
Maryland responded swiftly. Attacker Catie May, an efficient bench option last year, started in the attacking third for the Terps Saturday. She seized the augmented role early, getting Maryland on the board with a quick fake and finish.
Last season, the Terps pulled away from teams early, developing a habit of building leads within the first 10 minutes, setting a steady platform. Saturday was a slightly different story, as Maryland’s defensive unit struggled to keep tabs on George Mason’s patient offense. Folker turned provider for the Patriots’ second of the day, as the home team asserted its authority early on.
“George Mason had some good looks, had some great goals that were scored,” Reese said. “Which is stuff we will have to obviously learn from to make adjustments as we move forward.”
That would soon change, as Maryland found its rhythm and settled into the game. Libby May complemented her older sister’s early strike with a goal of her own to tie things at two. Catie May then returned the favor three minutes later, giving Maryland its first lead of the day from a precise feed from Hartshorn. Libby May added the fourth from a free position look, and the Terps never looked back.
Over the ensuing 14 minutes, Maryland added five more, with Hartshorn either scoring or assisting on four of them. Thus, by the time Griffin and Hartshorn connected for a 9-2 lead, the game was all but over.
“I thought we started a little slow. Ball movement was a little slow, feet were a little slow,” Hartshorn said. “But I think we really brought it together by the end of the game.”
With the loss of four out of five of Maryland’s nation-best defense prior to this year, there were numerous question marks as to how the Terps could rebuild the unit. Early miscommunications aside, the group showed promise at the back. Goalie Maddie McSally, with the near-impossible task of following Megan Taylor, stopped five shots in the first half. Defender Emma Schettig, in her first Maryland start, caused two turnovers and served as a harassing presence to keep the home team at bay. Grace Griffin, usually a midfielder, also slid comfortably into a defensive role.
“I thought they all did a really good job,” Reese said. “After we gave it about 10 minutes or so, we could just settle in.”
That same defensive unit had comparatively little to do in the second half. Reese shuffled the deck, introducing Emily Sterling in goal, and rotating other new faces into the team. Despite numerous new players on the field, Maryland didn’t miss a beat. Brindi Griffin got on the board for the first time, squeaking a shot in after darting from behind the cage. She added two more in short order, and the Terps led 13-3 with 20 minutes remaining.
With the clock running and offense in clear rhythm, Maryland saw the game out with relative ease. There were still some sloppy mistakes — the Terps were outdone 16-11 at the draw circle, for example — but they were a team fully in control.
If Saturday’s offensive explosion carries over, there just might be a few more smiles from Griffin this season.
“It can only go up from here. We’re only one game in, a handful of practices in,” Hartshorn said. “It’s only going to get better from here.”