Outlook healthy for Terps women despite challenges

From shingles to broken leg suffered in class, defending national champions have had more than their share of issues — but they say the experience has made them stronger

May 26, 2011|By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

When Maryland lacrosse coach Cathy Reese talks about this season, one of the adjectives that comes up the most is "weird."

The defending national champions have maintained the No. 1 ranking all season and are favored to win their 11th NCAA title this weekend, but they have had to overcome a plethora of injuries and illness — and not just the nagging, everyday kind that plague a lot of teams.

Before the season started, senior midfielder Laura Merrifield came down with shingles and missed the first four games. Junior midfielder Karri Ellen Johnson, Lacrosse Magazine's preseason pick for National Player of the Year, suffered a concussion in the Towson game March 29 and has been out since. Senior midfielder Brandi Jones missed two games with a concussion, and sophomore attacker Danielle Kirk broke her leg in a basketball class a month ago.

It didn't help that two highly touted freshmen — midfielder Brooke Griffin, The Sun's All-Metro Player of the Year in 2010, and attacker Kelsey Horton — were also sidelined with knee injuries.

"This has just been a weird year. It's not like sprained ankles," Reese said. "I've never known or heard of someone with shingles, so that was new and it was really tough to watch Laura suffer through such a difficult time. The Danielle Kirk injury was brand-new, and I haven't had a concussion or an issue with a concussion in any way on any of my teams, and that's been tough when it sidelines two of your starters."

The Terrapins had been hoping to have Johnson back as the season wore on, but Reese said her status is doubtful for the championship weekend.

Having to playing musical chairs with the lineup could take some teams right out of contention for a national title, but the Terrapins (20-1) will be ready for their meeting with Atlantic Coast Conference nemesis and No. 5 seed Duke in Friday night's national semifinal at Stony Brook on New York's Long Island.

"The past couple years, we haven't even had anyone get injured or be out of the starting lineup, so it was definitely different," Jones said, "but I think we've adjusted well and it definitely made us a stronger team. It showed people that we have a lot more depth. People see Karri Ellen, who's an awesome, awesome player, but at the same time we have all these other weapons who can step up when we need them."

Merrifield, who said she lost feeling down her right side while suffering with shingles for six weeks, agreed that the injuries have made the team better able to handle adversity.

"We've been pretty unlucky with the amount of injuries and things the people have gone through, but it's been exciting in a way because it's given other people a chance to come into the lineup," said Merrifield, who bounced back to be the Most Valuable Player of the ACC tournament.

"We've got such strong team chemistry, and everyone works so hard for each other. Any problems that have come up, we've all held together. It's definitely a unique team and definitely something that's helped us to get to where we are at the moment."

The veterans on offense have been consistent in their output and have held the team together. Tewaaraton Award finalists Sarah Mollison and Katie Schwarzmann along with Merrifield, Jones and Kristy Black each have at least 30 points.

A handful of youngsters have succeeded in handling larger roles than expected in the midfield. Freshman Beth Glaros stepped into the starting role for Johnson — who after missing 10 games is still third on the team in points — and has helped Jones handle the draws while contributing at both ends of the field. Freshman Jen Mendez and junior newcomer Bria Phillips have made the most of extra playing time. Sophomore attacker Alex Aust has also taken a starting role.

For the most part, the Terrapins' lineup has been set since Johnson's injury, but losing Jones for a couple of games wasn't easy.

"One of the key things with Brandi was not just her actual playing, but her energy, just the excitement that she brings to the field, Reese said. "She's someone who can really bring our team together and get excited about playing. Having her back on the field really adds that spark to our team, the spark to our transition."

One of the biggest keys to holding the team together has been the unheralded play of the Terps' defense. The Terps allow just 6.67 goals per game — the best scoring defense in Division I.

Goalie Brittany Dipper, who has turned in some phenomenal performances, has a .537 save percentage and a 6.37 goals-against average — both No. 1 in Division I.

Katie Gallagher, sidelined last year with Crohn's disease, returned to join Brittany Poist, Iliana Sanza and Sara Cooper as the backbone of the line defense.

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