Heading into a high-stakes matchup with No. 4 Maryland, the No. 21 Michigan women’s lacrosse team had one main goal when developing a game plan: to limit the Terrapins’ offensive possessions.
The Wolverines accomplished that goal on paper, winning 15 draw controls to Maryland’s ten and outshooting the Terrapins 24-21.
But in actuality, that wasn’t enough.
On Saturday, Michigan (10-6 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) fell 13-8 in its final regular season game against Maryland (15-1, 6-0). With the loss, the Wolverines don’t qualify for the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.
“I thought we executed the game plan relatively well,” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. “We just unfortunately didn’t convert on some of those shots at the end of those possessions.”
The Terrapins’ offense was overpowering from start to finish. Maryland was patient on attack, allowing itself to capitalize on the best possible opportunity and score on more than half of their shots. The Terrapins also thrived in pressure situations with the shot clock running down.
After senior attacker Caitlin Muir equalized Maryland’s first goal of the game, the Terrapins netted five straight goals to take a 6-1 lead that would prove insurmountable for Michigan.
The Wolverines found themselves with a glimmer of hope during the third quarter after senior attacker Kaley Thompson scored to bring them within four, but Maryland responded with two quick goals to take a 12-6 lead heading into the fourth.
Under normal circumstances, the Terrapins’ offense was potent, but with the addition of three Michigan penalties in the first half, Maryland had extra-person opportunities — all three of which they capitalized on with goals.
“That’s just something you can’t do,” Nielsen said. “It was disappointing, I think all three of them were controllable. And you can’t put a team like Maryland, who’s already so dangerous, a player up.”
For much of the season, the Wolverines have found success when their defense sparks their offense. Freshman midfielder Jill Smith exemplified that, scoring in the third quarter against the Terrapins by translating a defensive play into an offensive opportunity, and senior midfielder Kaitlyn Mead scored her second goal of the game in the fourth quarter by building out from the defensive end.
But for the most part, the stifling Maryland defense stood its ground against Michigan in transition. The Terrapins consistently tracked back on defense to cause turnovers or off-target shots.
The Wolverines tried to create one-on-one situations on offense but Maryland consistently doubled up on defense when it recognized isolation plays. When Michigan players were able to find those scarce opportunities, they capitalized; Muir and freshman midfielder Jill Smith both scored when they were created one-on-one matchups.
But just like the overall theme of the game for the Wolverines, it wasn’t enough.
Despite the loss, the Michigan seniors showed their impact throughout the game. Mead scored two goals, while senior attackers Claire Galvin, Kelly Poole, Muir and Thompson all netted goals in their final home game. Senior defender Morgan Whitaker caused two turnovers and had two ground balls, and graduate senior goalkeeper Arielle Weissman had six saves and two ground balls.
“So many of (the seniors) play and contribute on the field but I think it’s so much more than that,” Nielsen said. “That was the message at the end of the game: Those girls are so much more than wins and losses.”
The Wolverines will wait to find out if they receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament during the selection show on May 9. If they don’t receive a bid, the loss to Maryland will be their last game of the season. If they do, they will have the opportunity to play against some of the nation’s strongest teams.
Throughout the season, Michigan displayed its ability to compete with those top teams. But the Wolverines need more than what they’ve shown in Big Ten play if they want to come out victorious.