In each of the past four seasons, at least one Maryland women's lacrosse freshman has had a breakout rookie year.
In 2015, attacker Megan Whittle was the Terps' leading scorer. In 2016, attacker Caroline Steele started every game, and goalkeeper Megan Taylor was Big Ten Goalie of the Year. In 2017, attacker Kali Hartshorn led Maryland in draw controls, ranked second on the team in scoring and was Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
In 2018, it's been midfielder Grace Griffin who's stepped up in her first year as a Terp. The team's only starting freshman, Griffin is a key contributor on both sides of the field and has shown improvement as a scorer in recent games.
"She's such a talented athlete and she's just a true competitor. She came in here and just worked to learn to get better. She asked a lot of questions, she's really coachable," coach Cathy Reese said. "I said at the beginning of the year, 'She's going to be a player that's going to be really fun to watch as she gains confidence.' And as she continues to go through the season, we're seeing that more — she's more involved on the offensive end."
Griffin scored seven goals in her first eight games but has heated up recently, scoring 15 in her past eight.
Against then-No. 15 Penn State on Thursday, Griffin tallied two goals and three assists, as well as a ground ball and caused turnover, en route to a 13-8 victory. She earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second time.
Reese said she likes that Griffin isn't afraid to go for goal, and is a good dodger and finisher inside the crease.
Griffin said support from her teammates, especially those who have been in her shoes, has helped her shine this season.
"When they have confidence in me, then that fuels my confidence personally. And when they are so excited for when I do well, that really is an amazing feeling," Griffin said. "They kind of tell you, 'Don't play like a freshman; you're here for a reason.'"
Whittle knows the difficulties that come with contributing as a freshman. She's told Griffin to "just go to goal and do her thing."
"I can't express enough how hard it is to come on to a previously undefeated national championship team," Whittle said. "I've done that. [I'm] really proud of the way that she's been playing. … Just [doing] things that aren't really easy for a freshman to do."
But earlier this year, when Hartshorn asked Griffin if she felt any pressure, Griffin laughed and denied it.
Now, with most of the regular season under her belt, Griffin has cemented herself as a significant piece of the Terps' defense, as they defend their national championship.
"It's so cool seeing her come in and seeing her progress as the year goes [on]," attacker Brindi Griffin said. "You see her confidence go up throughout the year. We absolutely love playing with her, and I hope she keeps killing it."