Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Lacrosse: No. 1 Northwestern set for heavyweight bout at No. 2 Maryland

Daily file photo by Henry Frieman
Northwestern huddles ahead of its game against Rutgers last Saturday.

Upon nightfall in College Park Saturday, two bitter rivals will charge at one another full-speed ahead, eyeing a monumental Big Ten result. Befitting the Old Line State’s official sport of jousting, conference and national championship contenders No. 1 Northwestern and No. 2 Maryland are set for their 20th all-time face-off.

One of the nation’s top attacks will collide with a stingy defense, and two elite draw units will duke it out between the 30s. The showdown boasts veteran superstars, elite youngsters and two of the greatest coaching minds at the collegiate level, all of whom look to outduel a familiar foe under the lights of Maryland’s Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex.

“We expect a great challenge,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said of the impending matchup during last Saturday’s postgame press conference. “They play extremely well at home.”

Both battle-tested teams have struck scorching strides as of late. The Terrapins (10-2, 3-0 Big Ten) sit atop the conference totem pole and have won seven of their last eight games. Meanwhile, the Wildcats (10-2, 2-1 Big Ten) have nine victories in their past 10 matchups.

NU’s best lacrosse this season has come inside Ryan Fieldhouse, where Amonte Hiller’s squad boasts a 7-0 record. The ’Cats secured two home wins over Maryland last year, but the Terrapins will play hosts to the Lake Show Saturday for the first time since 2022.

Maryland and NU have three common opponents thus far, with both groups defeating Syracuse, Denver and Rutgers. Amonte Hiller and Terrapins coach Cathy Reese’s teams have both spent time atop the national polls this season, and Maryland’s slip-up against then-No. 14 Penn vaulted the ’Cats to the No. 1 spot.

All will be for naught, unless the visitors can take care of business in enemy territory — a facility where they haven’t escaped unscathed since their first-ever College Park campaign in 2006.

With conference and national implications — as well as bragging rights — on the line, here are three key storylines ahead of NU’s Saturday night game against its east-coast rival.

Terrapin defense will test the ’Cats’ starpower

After Abby Bosco graduated last summer and began her professional career in the Athletes Unlimited league, Reese landed a high-profile replacement in the transfer portal: reigning Big Ten Defender of the Year Meghan Ball.

Ball was a Rutgers superstar, hauling in individual accolades and wreaking havoc on the defensive end and in the draw circle during her four seasons in Piscataway, New Jersey. She picked up right where she left off in her new digs, scooping 22 ground balls, racking up 21 caused turnovers and pulling down 48 draw controls in 12 games.

With an elite netminder leading the shotstopping effort in Maryland goalkeeper Emily Sterling, the Terrapins have shut down several significant opposing threats this season.

When Maryland knocked off then-No. 2 James Madison March 10, the Dukes’ sophomore star Maddie Epke — a Tewaaraton watchlist addition — was held to just one goal on five shots. The Terrapins also held Syracuse attacker Emma Ward to one goal on six attempts earlier in the season.

While NU carries one of the nation’s most potent scoring presences, graduate student attackers Izzy Scane and Erin Coykendall and sophomore attacker Madison Taylor will certainly face more resistance than they have in recent games.

Ahearn vs Smith: A draw duel for the ages

Last season, Terrapin midfielder Shaylan Ahearn had junior midfielder Samantha Smith on the ropes during their 2023 Big Ten Tournament championship duel. Ahearn’s side won nine of the game’s first 11 draw controls, but Smith steadied the ship in the second half, helping her team secure a 14-9 victory.

Following her championship win, Smith told The Daily that having a 15-second memory was vital to success in a cerebral space like the draw circle. That tactic will once again be put to the test Saturday night.

Ahearn is up to her usual antics on the draw this season, pulling down 56 draws, including a season-high nine draw controls against Drexel Feb. 21. However, Smith has soared toward the nation’s pinnacle in the circle, securing 72 draw controls this season.

With two All-Big Ten midfielders going toe-to-toe at the halfway line, much of the onus will fall on their supporting teammates in the circle. 

Amonte Hiller has featured Taylor, Scane, senior defender Kendall Halpern, junior midfielder Emerson Bohlig and junior defender Sammy White on her circle units this season. Bosco and Maryland midfielder Shannon Smith will be crucial for the hosts’ efforts.

Coykendall and Clevenger mark matchup of elite feeders

Maryland attacker Eloise Clevenger and Coykendall both carry a scoring threat whenever the ball flies into their sticks, but the veteran attackers have made their bread and butter in setting up cutters on a silver platter.

Clevenger sits second in the NCAA with 41 assists this season, spearheading a balanced Maryland attack alongside attackers Hannah Leubecker, Libby May and Kori Edmondson. The All-American has also scored 15 goals in 2024.

For NU, Coykendall has amassed a team-high 33 assists thus far — good for the 12th most in the country. Behind her distributive savvy and intelligent play, the ’Cats have found double-digit tallies in every game this season.

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