UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Maryland women's lacrosse team has faced its fair share of highly ranked opponents this season, but none have given them the trouble No. 5 Penn State did Thursday.
The No. 1 Terps trailed in the second half for just the second time this season, but despite Penn State's efforts, Maryland earned its 16th straight victory, 16-14, to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship.
"I'm really proud of our girls for finding a way to win that game tonight," coach Cathy Reese. "Penn State's a really great team and they played hard and well all over the field. But, I'm really proud of our team's effort in the second half to find a way to pull away."
The teams were knotted at six at halftime, marking the first time all season the Terps (16-0, 5-0 Big Ten) didn't lead at the break.
Penn State opened the scoring in the second half, but the Terps snatched the lead back and stretched it to two about eight minutes into the frame. From there, they traded goals with the Nittany Lions (14-2, 4-1).
With the Terps leading, 12-11, the Nittany Lions found their leading scorer, attacker Madison Carter, open in front of goal. However, goalkeeper Megan Taylor stuffed her at point blank range to spring a Maryland attack.
Attacker Caroline Wannen found attacker Taylor Hensh in front of goal, and Hensh finished to put the Terps ahead, 13-11, with under 11 minutes remaining.
The Terps never surrendered that lead.
"It's all momentum," attacker Megan Whittle said. "That's being on this Maryland team—you feed off of each other. It's just a momentum change and I get just as excited for defensive stops and Meg's saves as I do a Jen Giles eight-meter or anything like that."
Whittle notched her second goal of the game shortly after Hensh's score, giving the Terps a three-goal advantage. It was the largest cushion either team had.
With Penn State defender Natalie Schmitt face-guarding Whittle, the Terps' leading scorer looked for other offensive outlets. So, midfielder Kali Hartshorn stepped up.
Continuing her hot streak of performances, the freshman notched four goals. She's recorded 19 scores in her past four games. Midfielder Zoe Stukenberg chipped in a six-point effort behind four assists while seven Terps beat Penn State goalkeeper Cat Rainone, who made 15 saves.
"Defenses know that when Megan Whittle gets the ball, she's dangerous," Stukenberg said. "That's what makes our offense so powerful and so dangerous is the fact that anyone can step up and everyone will step up every night. We play our best when all seven players are contributing."
Though Taylor's performance wasn't on the level of her past efforts, her seven saves, including the stop on Carter, allowed the Terps to distance themselves from Penn State.
The Terps allowed the most goals they have all season, and the victory was the smallest margin by which they have won. Generally, they have shut down opposing teams' best attackers, but Carter scored six goals Thursday.
Rather than beat themselves up over it, though, they'll take the victory as a learning experience.
"They exposed some weaknesses that other teams haven't, and that's awesome," Stukenberg said. "That's what we want going into the postseason. We want to know where our weaknesses are so we can identify them now as opposed to halfway through a postseason game."