Women's Lacrosse

Syracuse women’s lacrosse opponent preview: What to know about Maryland

Courtesy of Christian Jenkins | The Diamondback

Syracuse has struggled to stop Taylor Cummings (middle), who had 13 points in two games against the Orange last season. Although she wasn't as productive early in the two teams' matchup this season, she came on late for SU.

No. 4 seed Syracuse (19-5, 5-2 Atlantic Coast) runs into a familiar foe in the national semifinal on Friday when defending champion and No. 1-seeded Maryland (21-0, 5-0 Big Ten) is on the opposing sideline. Maryland has ended Syracuse’s season the last three years, each time just short of the national championship.

Syracuse fought through arguably the toughest path to the NCAA semifinal by staging a last-minute comeback against Stony Brook’s No. 2-ranked defense in the second round and then beating Southern California’s No.1-ranked defense in overtime of the quarterfinals. Now to complete the gauntlet, Syracuse faces nation’s third-best defense.

The Terrapins slipped past Johns Hopkins, 14-8, before pounding upstart Massachusetts, 18-3. Freshman Caroline Steele (4), sophomore Megan Whittle (4) and junior Zoe Stukenberg (5) combined for 13 goals.

Here’s everything you need to know about the matchup:

All-time series: Maryland leads 19-1, SU is 0-8 in the last four years

The History: Here are all the relationships between Syracuse and Maryland in this matchup

SU head coach Gary Gait started his career at UMD under all-time great Cindy Timchal and coached with current Terrapins head coach Cathy Reese when both were assistants. Orange attack Halle Majorana transferred to Syracuse from Maryland after two years in College Park. Midfielder Erica Bodt and defenders Kaeli O’Connor, Haley McDonnell and Kathy Rudkin grew up in Maryland, although Rudkin moved to San Diego at an early age.

Last time they played: Syracuse led in the second half for the first time in three years against Maryland, but eventually lost, 14-9, in the Carrier Dome on March 12. Turnovers and lost draw controls sunk the Orange while grad transfer goalie Allie Murray tried to keep SU afloat.

Syracuse’s two leads lasted a total of one minute, 34 seconds. A problem with turnovers (11 in the second half) was compounded by poor defensive rotations that led to fouls. Five of the Terrapins final eight goals were earned on free position shots. In the second half, Maryland earned nine free position shots to Syracuse’s one.

Ultimately, the game was just another chapter in Maryland’s instructional manual on how to dominate Syracuse.

Last time they played in the NCAA tournament: Top-seeded Maryland beat No. 4 seed Syracuse, 10-8, in the 2015 national semifinal played at PPL Park in Philadelphia. It played out like so many of Syracuse’s losses to Maryland do. Turnovers, losses at the draw circle and stalling. Terrapins star midfielder Taylor Cummings dominated at the draw circle, helping Maryland take 14 of 20 draw controls. Gary Gait said draws were the biggest reason his team lost after the game.

Syracuse star Kayla Treanor scored three goals but was mostly left to stare from the 30-yard-line as Maryland held the ball for the final six minutes to waste the clock away on its national championship berth. The Terps eventually beat North Carolina, 9-8, to win the NCAA title.

“When she has the ball, I think we all just hold our breath. She’s that good,” UMD coach Cathy Reese said after the game. “… When we were able to come up with the ball and possession under 10 minutes, under eight minutes, we would rather keep it on our end of the field.”

The Orange sent goalie Kelsey Richardson chasing UMD attacks as the Terrapins stalled, two SU players earned yellow cards and fouls piled up, but that didn’t get the ball back. And it didn’t get SU any closer to the win it so desperately wanted.

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Daily Orange File Photo

The Maryland report: Maryland is the nation’s unquestioned best team. Only twice in its 21 wins has the game been closer than three goals. Twelve of those victories have come by double digits.

Yet this year’s may not be the same caliber as the 2015 Maryland team. Inside Lacrosse put that version on its cover with the question: “Best team ever?” Last year Maryland returned 10 starters, but this year the number was half that and the defense got back senior Alice Mercer, but little else experience-wise.

UMD boasts the country’s highest scoring offense, pouring in an average of 15.4 goals per game and the best draw control unit at 14.5 draws per game. The Terps’ only commit a low 10.3 turnovers per game and there lockdown defense allows just 6.7 goals per game, ranking UMD first and third in the country, respectively.

Cummings isn’t even the best player statistically on the high-powered unit. Whittle’s 69 goals rank her third in the nation. The strength of the squad lies in its depth. Eight players have 20 or more goals. Three have 15 or more assists.

Freshman goaltender, 5-foot-3 Megan Taylor, won Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. Her .486 save percentage ranks 16th in the NCAA.

How Syracuse beats Maryland: Since Syracuse’s seniors have never beaten Maryland, there’s no blueprint. In last year’s semifinal, the Terps dominated at the draw circle and ran out the clock. This year, Syracuse won the draw but allowed unforced turnovers, fouls and free position shots to eat up the game in the second half. There’s not a specific area Syracuse must take advantage of to win.

Instead, the Orange will need to play a near-perfect game. They cannot make too many unforced turnovers or foul too much. They must take advantage of chances and create their fair share of them at the draw circle. Allie Murray, SU’s streaky and aggressive goalkeeper, must stay in the top form she displayed against Southern California.

Stopping one of the sport’s best-ever on her quest to leave school on a three-peat is a difficult task. But if Syracuse wants to stop playing second fiddle — if the senior class led by Kayla Treanor wants to make its Final Four run meaningful — then it must first beat Maryland.

Numbers to know:

23 – Of the 32 players on Maryland’s roster, 23 are from in-state, a lacrosse hotbed on par with Long Island.

8 – Maryland is making its eighth consecutive appearance in the Final Four, the longest such streak in Division I.

87-3 – Maryland’s senior class has a career record of 87-3.

Player to watch: Taylor Cummings

When this year’s senior class came into college, Syracuse’s Kayla Treanor was the No. 2 recruit behind only the Maryland midfielder. Inside Lacrosse wrote that “it wasn’t even close” between Cummings in the rest of the field, and that she might have been the nation’s best player before she stepped foot on a college campus.

Cummings made good on all that praise by dominating the game from the get-go. She became an All-American her freshman year, then won the Tewaaraton Award, Honda Award and national championship her sophomore and junior years. She even received a nomination for “Best Female College Athlete” on the ESPYs, the ESPN award show for excellence in sports.

This season has been more of the same. Though neither her 55 goals nor 19 assists lead the team, she is the Terrapins’ leader. She’s in the top 20 nationally for goals, draw controls, caused turnovers and groundballs per game.

She’s also ended Syracuse’s season three straight years. In eight career games against the Orange, she’s scored 25 goals and dished out seven assists. In 2014 alone, between the two team’s three meetings, Cummings had nine points.

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