Though she has emerged as the Maryland women's lacrosse team's top offensive threat, attacker Megan Whittle was frustrated by her performance in the Big Ten tournament semifinals against Johns Hopkins on Friday. Whittle recorded just one goal on nine shots against the Blue Jays.
Whittle's performance didn't hurt the Terps, who secured their spot in the tournament title game with a 16-11 win. But the outing was still uncharacteristic, as Whittle posted a team-high 65 scores during the regular season and has scored at least 70 goals for the third straight season. So, the Glenwood, Maryland, native wanted to execute against No. 3-seed Penn State.
In Sunday's Big Ten tournament championship game, Whittle dominated the Nittany Lions defense to lead No. 1 Maryland to a 21-12 win. She scored a career-high eight goals on 12 shots, helping coach Cathy Reese's team secure its third straight Big Ten tournament title.
"She shot really well today. She moved the goalie, she finished on a lot of the opportunities that she had and really led our team offensively," Reese said, "and that's exactly what we need at this point in the season, especially when you're competing for a championship."
Whittle, who was named the tournament MVP, said she admired the way the team responded to its close semifinal win against the Blue Jays. On several occasions, they connected with the senior captain, whose performance provided a spark for the rest of the team, defender Lizzie Colson said.
Whittle guided multiple runs for the Terps. After the Nittany Lions went ahead 1-0 with an early score, she responded with a goal of her own, which sparked a 3-0 Terps run. Then, when Penn State evened the score at 3-3 about halfway through the opening period, Whittle scored twice to put Maryland back in front.
"I just knew I was better than [the way I played against Johns Hopkins] and that I needed to perform better for my team," Whittle said. "So personally I just took that to heart and just did my thing and shot as best as I could."
After the Nittany Lions scored twice to open the second half, Whittle found the net for her fifth score. A few minutes later, she went on a 3-0 spurt of her own to give Maryland an eight-goal lead that was too steep for Penn State to overcome.
With her dominant effort, Whittle drew within one goal of tying Gail Cummings' 289 career goals for second place in NCAA history. Cummings, who played at Temple from 1985 to 1988, was in first until this season, when Stony Brook's Courtney Murphy took over the top spot.
As the top-seeded Terps prepare for an NCAA tournament run, they'll look to Whittle to continue anchoring their attack. Last season, she scored five times in Maryland's first tournament game against High Point. Now, as the Terps pursue their second straight title, she'll aim to build off a career day against the Nittany Lions.
"It's just a really cool feeling to win your third straight Big Ten championship, and to do it on a really great day as a senior is really exciting for me," Whittle said. "I'm really proud of my own performance, but in all I'm way more proud of the way the team played. … I think this is really good momentum going into the NCAA tournament."