Maryland women continue to roll without Karri Ellen Johnson

April 21, 2011|By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

For many women's lacrosse teams, losing their leading scorer heading toward postseason play would be devastating. For No. 1 Maryland, playing without injured All-American Karri Ellen Johnson has altered the Terrapins' style a bit, but hasn't changed the results.

Johnson suffered a concussion in the Towson game on March 29. Although she finished that game, she has been sidelined ever since. Still, the defending national champions have won four games without her, running their season record to 15-0 and their winning streak to 37 games.

Maryland coach Cathy Reese said Johnson's status is day-to-day, but the Terrapins almost certainly will be without the Broadneck graduate this weekend, as they aim for a third straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title. The top-seeded Terps will meet Boston College/Virginia Tech in today's 5 p.m. semifinal in Cary, N.C.

Not that the Terps don't miss Johnson, a powerful attack presence projected in preseason by Lacrosse Magazine to be the 2011 National Player of the Year. The junior had 39 goals and 12 assists and led the team in draw controls through the first 11 games, but the Terps simply have the depth, strength and unity to sustain the top scoring offense in Division I even without her.

"I think this could be season-ending for some teams," Terps senior Sarah Mollison said, "but what makes our team special is that it doesn't just revolve around one person. Our team's so dynamic that any seven that are in [on the offensive end] are all dangerous and can all score. I think that's what separates us. That's why we're ranked No. 1 — we have so much depth coming off the bench."

The Terps lead Division I in goals per game with 16.4 and in scoring margin at 9.6. With Johnson in the lineup, they averaged 16.8 goals, and without her for the last four games, 15.25.

"Probably more than anything, that speaks to how veteran their offensive unit is," Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. "A lot of them have played together for two years or more. With how veteran their group is as well as the depth that they have, they're really not missing much without Karri Ellen."

Mollison, a senior All-American and the Terps' points leader, is the key to running the attack. With 40 assists, she's a sharp feeder who means double trouble for opponents because she works the crease well and can make a quick move to goal while the defense is looking for her to pass. Her 35 goals rank third on the team.

Sophomore Katie Schwarzmann, last season's ACC Rookie of the Year and a third-team All-American, passed Johnson as the leading goal-scorer with 44. Seniors Laura Merrifield and Brandi Jones and junior Kristy Black each have 19 or more goals and 27 or more points. Sophomore Alex Aust (20 assists) and freshman Beth Glaros, who stepped into Johnson's starting spot, have also emerged as dangerous attackers.

"It's just a different feel on offense," Reese said. "Karri Ellen has been that person who has been dominant inside. She can catch anything and she can score, I feel like, anything she shoots, so it's just our offense is playing to other people's strengths now and other people are stepping up."

The Terps also miss Johnson on the draw, where, even after sitting out four games, she still leads the team with 35 draw controls. Schwarzmann has 31.

"It is a big loss in the draw. She's dominant there and we know where she's going to try to direct it," Schwarzmann said. "So we had to adjust a little bit, trying different people there. I think we've adjusted quite well. Beth and Brandi have really been going at it at that position and I think everyone is stepping up and trying to go in there hard and get those draw controls."

Johnson, who ranks fourth on Maryland's career goals chart with 177, will remain sidelined until she is released by the team doctor.

All student athletes at Maryland take a baseline neuropsychological test called ImPACT, Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. The 25-minute computerized test is designed to measure memory, reaction time and attention span among other cognitive functions. If an athlete sustains a concussion, he or she takes the test again and the results are compared with the baseline results to see if the athlete is ready to resume playing.

Johnson's results have not yet been satisfactory to clear her to play, Reese said.

Maryland medical officials were unavailable for comment, but Dr. Gerry Gioia, a pediatric neuropsychologist and director of the Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery and Education Program at Children's National Medical Center in Bethesda, has said athletes face serious health risks if they return to the field while experiencing the lingering effects of a concussion.

"A major concern is a student-athlete being injured with a concussion … and then having a repeated concussion prior to that recovery. That puts them in a very, very serious and possibly life-threatening situation," Gioia said in 2007 when he helped administer ImPACT at Howard High School for the first time.

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