It’s one of the most common phrases in sports: in order to be the best, you have to beat the best.
Fortunately for Penn women’s lacrosse, the Quakers get an opportunity to do exactly that on Wednesday.
In what should unquestionably be the team’s most difficult game of the year, the Red and Blue travel to No. 1 Maryland for a mid-week non-conference tilt. Currently boasting an unblemished record, including a win over defending national champion UNC, the Terrapins are unanimously top-ranked in both the coaches’ and media polls, providing a juggernaut the likes of which Penn hasn’t seen all year.
For the No. 11 Quakers (6-1, 0-1 Ivy), one benefit is that they certainly will be entering Wednesday night with some momentum. Following a frustrating 10-4 loss to Cornell at the start of Spring Break to fall behind in the Ivy League title race, the Red and Blue have come out with renewed vigor since then, winning its next three games by a combined 26 goals — culminating in a surprisingly comfortable 16-6 win over then-No. 16 Duke.
But while last weekend saw the Red and Blue give a major statement against a perennial ACC power, the Terrapins (7-0, 1-0 Big Ten) will be a whole different beast for Penn to take on. Fueled by the fire of a second-place finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Maryland has not only been the nation’s clear top team this season, but it’s looked to be in the conversation to be one of the best teams ever in the sport thus far.
Owning an absurd average margin of victory of 8.43 goals, the Terps have already beaten four teams ranked in the top 20, including a 17-7 drubbing of then-No. 4 Syracuse and the aforementioned 13-10 victory over then-No. 1 UNC in a rematch of last season’s national championship game.
As one can tell by looking at these scores, it’s on the offensive side of the ball where Maryland does the most damage. In fact, the 13 goals against the Tar Heels was actually the Terps’ lowest offensive output of the season, as Maryland ranks third nationally with a gaudy 16.57 goals per game average.
Including a staggering six Inside Lacrosse preseason All-Americans — three on the first team — the balanced Terps’ attack already has six players with double-digit goals, led by junior attack Megan Whittie and her 3.24 goals per game.
As such, the game will provide quite the contrast in play, with Penn’s impressive record largely due to its defensive performance. Senior goalie and Virginia transfer Britt Brown has had a career season in the net so far, ranking fourth nationally with a .565 save percentage, most recently including a strong 11-save effort in last weekend’s trouncing of Duke. Led by Brown and a strong defensive core including preseason All-Americans Megan Kelly and Katy Junior, Penn has allowed double-digit goals in only its loss to Cornell — but needless to say, that back unit will be tested like never before against the absolutely stacked Terps lineup.
Of course, having the bravery to play such a highly esteemed foe is nothing new for Karin Corbett’s traditionally dominant program. This will be Penn’s 26th matchup against Maryland since 1980, with the Terrapins holding a 23-2 record in those games to date.
Most recently, then-No. 1 Maryland took a 12-8 win over Penn last season on Franklin Field — but despite the final score, the game could be encouraging for the Red and Blue’s hopes to pull off the upset this season. After falling behind 12-2 early in the second half, the Quakers ran off six consecutive goals to turn an apparent laugher into a game, with then-sophomore Alex Condon particularly shining with a hat trick.
Ultimately, though the Quakers — like any of Maryland’s opponents — will enter as heavy underdogs, the team should enter with nothing to lose. Get blown out, and Penn just does what most the nation expected it to do. Pull off the historic upset — or even be competitive — and the Red and Blue will put the lacrosse world on watch as a legit national title contender.
Let the games begin.
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