Mike Wolf, BTN volleyball announcer, April 7, 2015
Every Big Ten women's lacrosse team has played two conference games, and two teams remain unbetaten: Maryland and Penn State.
That's a good place to start this week's "Stick Check."
Can anyone challenge the Terps?
Two games into Big Ten play, and Maryland has yet to play a game decided by fewer than 11 goals. The Terps are the clear dominant force in the league, and, as stated last week, will be unbeaten when the Big Ten Tournament takes place at the end of the month in Piscataway. However, is there a Big Ten team remaining on the schedule that will at least challenge Maryland before the conference tournament?
Ohio State has the top-ranked offense in the Big Ten, averaging 14.6 goals per game and is ranked second in the conference in draw controls. Sunday, the Buckeyes host Maryland at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, and they have the firepower to keep up with the Terps. Defensively, and on the circle, it will be a different story.
In Saturday?s 14-13 loss at Penn State, Alexis Venechanos? team struggled to slow a Nittany Lion attack that, while explosive with eight different players scoring 10 goals or more this season, is not as dynamic as the Terps? offense. Maryland has two of the top three scorers in the conference in Taylor Cummings and Megan Whittle and that duo has combined for 19 points in two conference games. Add in Brooke Griffin and Zoe Stukenberg, who average nearly three points per game, and you have one of the most dangerous attacks in the country.
The bigger issue will be on draw controls, where despite having senior Katie Chase, who ranks 15th in the nation in draws won, Ohio State will not find an edge in the possession game. Chase will be neutralized on Sunday because she is not the one taking the draw for the Buckeyes; she comes off the circle and wins the 50-50 balls or beats her counterpart to the ball in the air. With Cummings, who is fifth in nation in DC, taking the draw for Maryland, the Terrapins have a player who has shown throughout her career that she can win the ball to herself and eliminate the impact of the players on the circle. In the game at Penn State, it was freshman Molly Wood taking the draw for the Buckeyes, and while Ohio State won the ratio in that game, Wood did not win the ball to herself on a consistent basis.
Possession is the game and Penn State will run into the same issue that Ohio State will have on Sunday against the top-ranked Terrapins. When the Nittany Lions travel to College Park for the regular season finale, they will need to find someone who can counter Cummings in the circle or their powerful attack will be negated. Maryland can score quickly, win the draw and score again. It?s a familiar story that will go on repeat, and unless a player emerges for the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions who can dominate inside the circle, neither team will stay close with the Terps.
Penn State improves to 2-0
Though a looming matchup at the end of the season against Maryland does not favor the Nittany Lions on paper, they remain tied atop the standings in the Big Ten after week two. On Senior Night in University Park, Penn State won its fourth consecutive game and second against a ranked opponent to bolster its postseason resume. Missy Doherty?s team limited the Buckeyes top threats in Katie Chase and Jackie Cifarelli and would get goals from eight different players to open up a four-goal lead in the second half.
Ohio State did get back within in one goal with under three minutes left in the game, but Penn State forced a turnover and ran out the clock for its first Big Ten conference home win. The Nittany Lions were fortunate to have the edge on the scoreboard as they lost the draw control battle, 17-12.
Saturday night showed what this Penn State offense is capable of against a good goalie, but it will need to improve its play inside and on the circle to allow this offense to get opportunities against the tough competition remaining in the Big Ten.
Performances of the Weekend
Taylor Cummings (MD) - 5g, 1a, 4 DC vs. RU
Brooke Griffin (MD) - 3g, 2a vs. RU
Selena Lasota (NU) - 8g, 2a at UM & vs. Penn
Sheila Nesselbush (NU) - 3g, 2 GB, 4 DC vs. Penn
Jennifer Poretto (OSU) - 4g at PSU
Steph Lazo (PSU) - 3g, 2a vs. OSU
Tatum Coffey (PSU) - 3g, 1a vs. OSU
Live this week on BTN/BTN2Go
Michigan at No. 12 Penn State - 7 p.m. ET Thursday (watch on BTN2Go)
No. 1 Maryland at No. 18 Ohio State - 11 a.m. ET Sunday (watch on BTN2Go)