April 10, 2009

Style Points: UNC, Terps Want It Their Way

by Jesse Baumgartner | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

North Carolina-Maryland is already a battle even without anything extra on the line. But when these women's lacrosse powerhouses meet Saturday, they'll be vying for the top spot in the ACC, as well.

You can't get any hotter than the Terrapins right now, who have streaked out to a 13-0 start and a No. 2 national ranking behind Northwestern and Penn.

"They've got great team speed. They play well together. They share the ball well. I think they're very dynamic offensively," UNC coach Jenny Levy said.

She's not kidding. The Terrapins are putting up 15.87 goals a game this season, and just finished posting a combined 37 in their last two games against Penn State and Ohio State.

One reason for that has been the 48 draw controls accumulated by UM freshman Karri Ellen Johnson -- tops on the team.

"She's shown to be very dominant with ball control off the draw, which I think ignites a lot of their fast break opportunities," Levy said.

But the No. 4 Tar Heels have been on a tear themselves during the last month. After losing back-to-back games against Northwestern and Penn, the Tar Heels have reeled off eight straight victories to get their season back on track.

"Carolina's very fast. They're athletic and they're going to challenge us both offensively and defensively," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. "They're very aggressive, fast coming out of the defensive end through the midfield."

And so it's with identical 3-0 conference records that these two squads square off in College Park this coming Saturday. To add even more anticipation to the game, neither team had a mid-week game to provide any distractions from the task at hand.

Levy highlighted her team's defensive prowess this season and -- like Reese -- pointed out UNC's efficiency in clearing the ball. While she said UNC has been an up-and-down scoring style team in the past, this season has been slightly different.

"We've just been playing a little bit more of a conservative style of lacrosse from what we've done in the past, and it seems to be working for us," she said. "Although our scoring isn't as flashy (11.47 goals a game), a win's a win."

Levy talked about the slight contrast of styles between UNC and the high-scoring Terps, but pointed out that last year's games against a Maryland team with a similar style were low-scoring (10-8 and 6-4 wins by the Terps).

"I think when we've gone up against teams who are posting high marks, we're doing a pretty good job of keeping the score more in the lower range," she said. "And so it should be a great game on Saturday -- two different teams going after it a little different style-wise."

As for the Terps, their firepower will be taking on a defense that's given up just 8.57 goals a game. The game could come down to simply which team forces its style more effectively upon the other.

"For us, we want to be able to control the tempo," Reese said. "We want to be able to have the ball on offense and execute when we have our openings without forcing things. And Carolina is a strong defensive team."

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