Mike Wolf, BTN volleyball announcer, April 21, 2015

The final week of the regular season is upon us, and capping off the first year of Big Ten women?s lacrosse will be a battle of conference unbeatens. The Big Ten title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament will be on the line at 7 p.m. ET Thursday on BTN (watch on BTN2Go) when Maryland hosts Penn State.

Let?s take a look how we got this point and what to expect in Thursday?s showdown.

Check out the BTN lacrosse schedule, as well as the BTN Plus live streaming schedule to see when your team will be featured on the network.

Penn State gets first win against Northwestern since 2003

A week ago, the question was whether Penn State was a Big Ten Title contender or a second-tier conference team. Sunday?s win in Evanston over No. 7 Northwestern proved it was the former in convincing fashion.

The Nittany Lions balanced attack jumped all over the Wildcats, opening up an 8-3 edge in the first 20 minutes. Six different Nittany Lions scored in the first half, and when Northwestern cut the edge to two in the second, the Nittany Lions rattled off four straight goals to make it 14-8 with 13 minutes to play.

Penn State, once again, found a way to get a victory despite losing the draw control battle (16-10). However, unlike years past where Northwestern has been able to control games with dominant draw play over an entire game, Penn State actually won the first-half edge 8-7, leading to the sizable early margin.

The victory snapped an 18-game losing streak to the Wildcats and validated a senior class that has been on the losing side of numerous marquee matchups with Northwestern. It was the sixth time these two teams have played since 2012 and two one-goal losses, as well as an NCAA Tournament setback, were put in the rearview mirror in Sunday?s win.

Senior Kelly Lechnur led Penn State with four goals but had to be helped off the field at the end of the game due to an injury. Missy Doherty?s team will need Lechnur as it takes on the nation?s only unbeaten team with the Big Ten Title on the line Thursday night.



Maryland & Penn State Play for Big Ten Title

When the season started, many expected the Big Ten title to be decided on the conference?s opening night, when Maryland and Northwestern met in Evanston for the inaugural Big Ten conference game. Instead, it will be the regular season finale, as with last week?s win, Penn State has supplanted Northwestern as Maryland?s top challenger for the Big Ten trophy. However, can Penn State fare better than any of its fellow conference teams against the defending national champions?

The Terps have won each Big Ten game by a minimum of five goals but that does not give a true sense of Maryland?s dominance. At the half of all four conference games this season, the Terrapins have had an average lead of seven goals. No team has had more than four tallies in the first half against Cathy Reese?s team, and it could be argued that the only reason the margin narrowed in the second half was because Maryland let off the gas. There has not been a Big Ten team that has made the Terps sweat for even a minute in 2015.

Will the Nittany Lions be the first? The stats would make you believe the Lions are barely separated from Maryland. Penn State ranks second in the Big Ten in goals per game, at 13.93, behind Maryland?s 14.5. Penn State is second in the league in goals against average, at 8.73, behind Maryland?s 6.88. The Nittany Lions are third in the league in draw controls, at 12.93, behind the Terrapins? league-leading 15.31. The gap does not seem big, but those advantages to Maryland will prove sizable in Thursday night?s game.

The numbers have been misleading in the past, and while all of the advantages seem to be pointing Maryland?s way, there is one scenario where Penn State leaves College Park with a win: Maryland falters. If Maryland has mental lapses, unforced turnovers, fails to play hard for the 50-50 balls and doesn?t slide when necessary against Penn State?s formidable attack, the Nittany Lions will have a shot. Otherwise, if the Terps are at their best, there is not a team in the nation that can hang with them.

The year began with Maryland having nine players selected as preseason All-Americans, and every one of them has lived up to the billing. Thursday night, if Taylor Cummings owns the circle, Megan Whittle hits her three-goal average, Alex Fitzpatrick saves 49 percent of shots and Megan Douty causes numerous turnovers, things those players have done all season, Maryland will win the first ever Big Ten conference lacrosse title.


Performances of the Weekend

Megan Whittle (MD) - 3g v Mich

Brooke Griffin (MD) - 2g v Mich

Kaliegh Craig (NU) - 4g v PSU

Katie Chase (OSU) - 5g v Rutgers

Jackie Cifarelli (OSU) - 6a v Rutgers

Jennifer Poretto (OSU) - 3g v Rutgers

Kelly Lechnur (PSU) - 4g at NU

Maggie McCormick (PSU) - 5 asts at NU

Steph Lazo (PSU) - 3g, 1a at NU

Emi Smith (PSU) - 10 Saves at NU

Live this week on BTN/BTN2GO

No. 8 Penn State at No. 1 Maryland - 7 p.m. ET Thursday (watch on BTN2Go)