April 21, 2009

Unbeaten Terps Turn Youth Loose, Run Wild

by Jesse Baumgartner | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Freshman Karri Ellen Johnson's 58 goals lead Maryland, which is 16-0 heading into this weekend's ACC tournament.

As head coach Cathy Reese terms it, this year's Maryland women's lacrosse team is "a different group."

The Terps fielded an extremely experienced squad last season, but 2009 has been more about a changing of the guard.

"We graduated eight starters. So it's a young group that was ready to play and ready to show that they were capable of doing great things," she said.

That, as it turned out, was an understatement.

After moving to 16-0 and completing a perfect ACC regular season Saturday with a 16-6 win over Virginia Tech, the Terps are in the middle of a campaign that continues to look destined for greatness as the weeks roll by.

"Our job is to try to put together the best team possible, and we've been working hard in developing these players, even though they played behind a strong senior class," Reese said. "People are stepping right into roles and doing a great job, they're playing really hard, [and] they're having a lot of fun. It's a really special team this year."

They've won by big and small margins along the way, but the main link between all 16 victories has been the Terps' ability to put the ball in the net. Maryland has netted an impressive 15.84 goals per game, including four games with 18 goals or more.

That production comes in large part thanks to the up-tempo style that UM likes to employ on the field. (Judging by the consistently high scores of their games, they've been quite successful in making other teams play that way, too.)

And one youthful addition to this offensive juggernaut has been particularly key in the success.

Freshman Karri Ellen Johnson, an attacker from Annapolis, has performed beyond any expectations a program could have for a first-year player during the past few months.

Starting all 16 games, Johnson is Maryland's leading scorer with a whopping 58 goals (21 more than any other Terp) and has a team-leading 57 draw controls, as well.

Reese expected Johnson could play right way with this team and its forward-thinking style.

"She was exactly what we were looking for on offense, being a strong finisher. And we had confidence, too, that she would fit right into our offensive style of play, and obviously it worked out well," Reese said as she chuckled.

Reese also highlighted Johnson's increased ability to redefend as a key development during her freshman season.

"I'm not even sure we saw that in the fall. It's been something that's kind of developed as she's become more confident and a stronger player. Now she's able to really redefend hard, and she's forced a lot of turnovers."

But Johnson's prolific offensive production is what stands out on this Maryland team, and she's a big reason why the Terps continue to roll as they head into the ACC tournament this weekend in Blacksburg, Va.

Perhaps the tough part now will be transitioning from this magical run into the playoffs, where 16 victories mean little and one loss equals a knockout. (The Terps do have one game against Princeton in between the ACC and NCAA tournaments).

"We're moving on. We're already focused on the ACC tournament," Reese said. "It's been a while since Maryland has won an ACC tournament, and we want to focus on stepping on the field and playing the kind of lacrosse that we know we're capable of."

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