COLLEGE PARK – Maryland senior attacker Caroline Steele dove to the ground, propelled forward by the momentum of a successful shot, before jumping to her feet and celebrating her fourth goal of the night.
That goal was just one more notch in what ended up being a career game for Steele, and one more push toward an 11th-straight Final Four appearance for the No. 1 seeded Terps. Only the 16-4 Denver Pioneers stood between Maryland and the women’s lacrosse tournament semifinals. The 20-1 Terps had no problems making quick work of the Pioneers, with a 17-8 victory on May 18.
Steele and midfielder Erica Evans ran roughshod over opponents all season long, and the playoffs provided a bigger stage for the two seniors to leave their mark in the red-and-white. Steele earned her 201st career goal and surpassed her single-game record with seven scores against Denver; she is just the seventh Maryland player in history to reach at least 200 goals. Evans celebrated her National Player of the Week honors with three scores and two assists, while junior attacker Brindi Griffin also tied her career single-game record with four goals. Griffin registered the second-half shot that resulted in a running clock for several minutes.
“Denver was playing a strong zone, and I personally was just trying to cut when it seemed open, and my teammates were just finding me tonight,” said Steele of her performance. “I give all the credit and props to them; they were feeding me well, and thankfully, I could score.”
The Terps showcased their dominance on the draw, winning 18 total draws to Denver’s nine. That proficiency on the draw resulted in a reduced number of offensive possessions for the Pioneers. Many of Denver’s attempted shots wildly missed their mark, and that frustration translated into aggression for the Pioneers.
Denver received six yellow card calls throughout the night; senior defender Caroline Lewis earned two penalty calls, disqualifing her from the game. Each yellow card penalty sidelined the penalized player for two minutes, and the Terps took advantage with two man-up goals.
Free-position shots were another pain point for the Pioneers; Denver finished 0-for-8 in the eight meters.
“I think (goalie) Megan Taylor had some great saves, but our defense did a nice job of crashing in. We made it difficult for them to get a good shot off,” said Maryland Head Coach Cathy Reese. “I thought we did a nice job just getting a stick on their eight-meter shot, so a lot of them ended up missing the cage. The credit goes to our defense on that; we’ve been working on that all week, too.”
The Terps, led by Steele, strung together a 6-0 run that Denver didn’t have an answer for until there were just 44 seconds left in the half. Denver sophomore attacker Quintin Hoch-Bullen cut through the Maryland defense for an unassisted goal, her first of two.
“I think (Maryland) just kind of started finding the back of the net a little bit — a couple (of) shots I think had gone wide,” said Denver Head Coach Liza Kelly of her team’s scoring drought. “We just had some people that were wide open in the middle. We really struggled on the draw today; that’s usually a strength for us, and I think Maryland really capitalized on their possessions.”
The Pioneers managed to halt the running clock for a few minutes in the second half, but the pauses in play just seemed to delay the inevitable. Maryland senior midfielder Meghan Siverson set the running clock back in motion when she earned her 18th goal of the season, with just over 11 minutes left until the Terps were back in the Final Four.
For Reese, part of the satisfaction of such a big postseason win was the fact that so many seniors scored a goal in their final game at College Park.
“What’s really cool is that all of our seniors finished on the field together, and all of my seniors on offense scored today,” said Reese. “I think that’s something special, and it’s a credit to our senior leadership and this class that has meant so much to the University of Maryland and so much to our lacrosse program.”
“It’s the best place on earth. To win my last game at home, to never lose here, it speaks to our team and our coaches. The senior class, we’ve all worked so hard to get here,” said Steele. “We’re excited to get back to another Final Four, and we can’t wait to get back to work. I treasure every single moment that I get to step on the field with my best friends.”
The Terps now must prepare to face a familiar foe, Northwestern, in the tournament semifinals on May 24. Maryland’s sole loss of the season was against the Wildcats in the Big Ten Tournament on May 5.