Early in its top-10 battle with Penn on Wednesday, Maryland women’s lacrosse was dealing with a cold offensive start.
The No. 2 Terps had gone down 1-0 early without registering a shot through nine minutes, but strong defense allowed them to fight back to take a 3-2 lead against the No. 6 Quakers.
Then, with a seemingly tight battle ahead, attacker Caroline Steele turned the game on its head.
Just over 13 minutes in, the senior recovered a ground ball, dodged two defenders behind the cage and deftly placed a left-handed shot through the legs of goalkeeper Mikaila Cheeseman for her first goal of the day. She tallied three more over the next four minutes, and the Terps went on to win 14-9.
Although the Terps took a season-low 23 shots, they were ruthlessly efficient in front of goal, taking advantage of their few opportunities and scoring 14 times against a Quakers defense that hadn’t allowed more than 10 goals in any of its first six games.
“We took the ones that we had, moved around, and [it was] a great shooting day,” coach Cathy Reese said.
Maryland shot 61 percent, its best shooting percentage of the season — and Steele was the catalyst. The senior finished with five goals, tied for a career high.
During Steele’s personal four-goal run in the first — which propelled the Terps to a 7-2 lead — she found the net in creative ways. She finished on a play from behind the cage, another attacking along the baseline and a third cutting to her left and shooting low.
The second, though, was the one she was proudest of.
After being fouled while driving toward the cage, the senior lined up a free position shot. As the defense closed in, Steele deftly wound up and fired sidearm past Cheeseman.
“It is my favorite thing to do,” Steele said. “Just rip it from the eight.”
Steele wasn’t the only Terp to score from free position opportunities. After converting on only 36 percent of eight-meter looks in their previous six games, the Terps shot a torrid 75 percent against Penn.
By moving the ball quickly around Penn’s zone defense, Maryland was able to draw numerous fouls that afforded it free position opportunities.
“When Penn went into their zone, there’s a lot of shooting space and three-second calls,” Reese said. “So you’re put on the eight-meter.”
For attacker Kali Hartshorn, capitalizing on free position chances is nothing new. In overtime against Syracuse, she received a free position pass and scored the golden goal. Against Penn, she took matters into her own hands, taking one step and firing a shot top shelf for the Terps’ first of the day.
Midfielder Grace Griffin also capitalized on the free looks, driving toward the cage and carefully placing a shot under tight pressure to open the scoring in the second half. Five of Maryland’s 14 goals came off direct shots or immediate passes on free position looks.
“When that’s the looks you’re gonna get, then those are the ones we gotta take,” Reese said.
As the Maryland offense poured in goals, they were supported by stellar goalkeeping. Megan Taylor, named the IWLCA National Defensive Player of the Week for her efforts against the Orange, contributed 13 saves, denying a relentless Quakers offense of what appeared to be multiple certain goals.
“[The defense] make my job easy,” Taylor said. “They put me in a position where I can save the ball, and that’s really how I’m successful.”
With the defense shutting down Penn for extended periods of time, the offense managed to get hot on the few looks given to them. Steele’s first finish was the third of eight straight Maryland goals that separated the two teams.
The Terps shot 73 percent during that crucial 12 minute outburst in the first half and continued to convert their looks en route to a seventh straight win.
“We’re not going to shoot 100 percent, we know that,” Reese said. “But if we can take our time, limit our turnovers and put some of these away, we can score.”