Lacrosse: Maryland narrowly edges Northwestern in Big Ten Tournament championship


Keshia Johnson/The Daily Northwestern

Christina Esposito tries to evade a defender. The junior attacker led the Wildcats with 3 goals in Sunday’s loss to Maryland.

Claire Hansen, Reporter


When playing an undefeated team, you have to be perfect. On Sunday, the Wildcats fell just short of that mark.

No. 1 seed Maryland (19-0, 5-0 Big Ten) edged No. 3 seed Northwestern (10-9, 3-2) 12-9 in the Big Ten Tournament championship at Martin Stadium in a fierce battle of possession and momentum.

The perennial powerhouses — who combined have won 10 of the last 11 national championships — had four ties and lead changes in the title game before the Terrapins pulled away on a 5-0 run in the second half.

With the loss, the Cats are not granted an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament but remain eligible for tournament play with a record above .500. Earlier in the season, the Terrapins dominated the Cats 17-4; Sunday’s game saw a much more even playing field, with the game decided by a handful of turnovers and missed opportunities.

“Definitely proud of the way my girls played today, they fought hard,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “I think that, especially early on, we didn’t take advantage of some opportunities and later in the game, same thing. We were down by a couple goals and couldn’t put things away.”

The Cats started the game aggressively. After freshman goalie Mallory Weisse nabbed two point-blank saves, sophomore midfielder Selena Lasota dodged her way around the Maryland defense and finished in front of the crease. From there, it was a game of runs.

Maryland rocketed out on a 4-0 run before NU battled back to regain a 5-4 lead, winning a series of draw controls and tallying 4 goals in 2 and a half minutes.

“We just told ourselves that we had nothing to lose,” junior attacker Christina Esposito said. “It wasn’t so much of a team adjustment, but a mentality that we were going to keep pushing no matter what.”

After trading goals back and forth with Maryland, Esposito found junior attacker Danita Stroup on the crease to tie the game 7-7 early in the second half.

Over the next 13 minutes, Maryland methodically scored 5 times, including a controversial goal to begin the run. The Cats, on the other hand, were unable to capitalize on hard-earned possessions, committing key turnovers in the midfield and attacking sphere. Despite a frenzied, last minute pair of goals for the Cats, Maryland’s run proved to be too great.

In a game of nearly-identical statistics, senior attacker Kaleigh Craig said that it was momentum shifts that cost the Cats the game.

“In any game, momentum goes back and forth,” Craig said. “In those moments, we just have to keep ourselves steady and tell ourselves that we can get it back.”

Defeat aside, Sunday’s matchup displayed a marked improvement for the Cats. In the teams’ last three meetings before Sunday, Maryland had outscored NU 50-14.

Esposito said this improvement is indicative of something the team has been saying all year: Their best lacrosse is yet to come.

“This game showed that we are getting there,” Esposito said. “I think that capitalizing off our mistakes and lessons learned in this game will help us get there. Our strength in numbers and love on this team is greater than anything I’ve ever seen, and that’ll power us through.”

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Twitter: @clairechansen