- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Maryland women’s lacrosse team made it through the regular season with one loss, just like a year ago.

It earned the top seed in the NCAA tournament, much as it did in 2010.

The Terrapins enter the final four with a stingy defense and a roster featuring six players who have at least 20 goals — the same profile they took into the last weekend of the season last spring.

But don’t doubt for a moment it’s a different season for the defending national champions. Injuries have seen to that.

“We’ve had our fair share, that’s for sure, as we’ve gone through this season,” said coach Cathy Reese, whose Terps (20-1) meet fifth-seeded Duke (15-4) in Friday’s semifinals in Stony Brook, N.Y.

Prized recruit Brooke Griffin tore an ACL in the fall and is redshirting. Midfielder Laura Merrifield missed four games early on with shingles. Brandi Jones, another senior midfielder, sat out the final two games of the regular season with a concussion. That included the Terps’ lone loss, a 9-8 overtime setback at Dartmouth. Midfielder Danielle Kirk, a top reserve, broke a leg and hasn’t played in a month.

Yet the most noticeable and enduring injury is Karri Ellen Johnson’s concussion. The junior attacker, who had 51 points in 11 games, suffered the injury March 29. She hasn’t played since.

Reese said she doesn’t think Johnson will compete in this weekend’s final four, which is played on a Friday-Sunday format. Second-seeded Northwestern (19-2) and third-seeded North Carolina (15-5) meet in the second semifinal.

Still, the Terps have rolled along, outscoring Navy and Princeton in the tournament’s first two rounds by a combined 34-12 margin. The nation’s top defense - anchored by goalie Brittany Dipper, who leads the country with a .537 save percentage - complements emerging offensive reserves who have played well.

“With lots of injuries, like with Karri Ellen being out, that was a huge hit [as was] Brandi for a few games,” Dipper said. “Luckily, our team has so much depth to it that it really didn’t affect us too much.”

Maryland leads the nation in scoring margin at plus-8.4, though it is at plus-6.2 since Johnson’s injury. Some of that is a function of opponent quality; eight of the past 10 games came against foes invited to the 16-team NCAA tournament.

“We’ve had a couple of games where we lapsed, but aside from that we’ve been building throughout the season,” Merrifield said. “We’ve gotten stronger and stronger. The communication and things between us have gotten a lot better.”

That sounds familiar, too, even if the Terps emphatically insist last year’s championship carries little meaning with this season’s group.

In many ways, they’re right. This path to Memorial Day weekend wasn’t quite the same. The results — another final four trip to improve the program’s record the past three seasons to 63-3 — have remained consistent, even if the available personnel changed along the way.

“It’s been something where our kids have really found a way to step up,” Reese said. “We’ve had different people out at different times for different reasons, and we’ve had a lot of players stepped up this year that have taken on new challenges and some have filled new roles. We’ve pulled together well to be in the position we’re in today.”

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