A powerful offensive unit has helped the University of Maryland women's lacrosse team to an undefeated record and the No. 1 spot in the national polls, released April 17. The Terps are second in the nation in scoring, averaging 16.9 goals per game.
But the Maryland defense has also been responsible for its lofty ranking, and the leader of that unit has emerged as one of the nation's best goalkeepers. Sophomore netminder Megan Taylor, who leads all Division I goalkeepers with a .573 save percentage, will be an important player in Maryland's quest for its fourth NCAA title during the last eight years.
Taylor, who has earned the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week award five times during the 2017 season, is a major reason for the Terps' continuing success. During her second season as Maryland's starting goalkeeper, Taylor has held opponents to 8.5 goals per game.
That mark is even more impressive considering the quality of the Terps' foes. Head coach Cathy Reese's club has beaten eight teams that are currently ranked in the IWLCA's national top 20.
"Last year, we had the presence of [graduated All-Americans] Taylor Cummings and Alice Mercer," Taylor said. "No one really knew what we were going to do this year. You lose good people all the time, but I actually thought we'd be fine. This year has been nothing but smiles."
Maryland hasn't slowed down while posting a 15-0 overall record and a 4-0 Big Ten mark. The Terps' closest game of the season was a 13-10 victory against defending NCAA champion North Carolina at Maryland Stadium Feb. 25.
Taylor, a sophomore from Glenelg, Md., has continued her family's goalkeeping tradition. Her older brother, Alex, was a standout goalkeeper for a Salisbury University team that won two NCAA championships during his four years at the school. While her brother was stopping shots for Salisbury, Taylor was excelling in the goal for Glenelg High School. She was named a US Lacrosse All-American and an Academic All-American in 2014.
Her brother has been a strong influence in Taylor's success.
"I've been playing lacrosse all my life with him," said Taylor, who is the youngest of three children. "I grew up watching him, and he was so good. I was nervous coming into college after tearing my ACL during my senior year [at Glenelg], and he really helped me with the transition."
Taylor became Maryland's starting goalkeeper for the second game of the 2016 campaign and helped the Terps to a 21-1 season and runner-up finish at the NCAA championships. Taylor, who completed her first collegiate season with a 6.78 goals-against average and .471 save percentage, was named the Big Ten's Goalkeeper of the Year.
During her sophomore season, Taylor has anchored a defensive unit that lost 2016 Tewaaraton Award finalist Mercer but returned four starters in seniors Nadine Hadnagy and Morgan Torggler, redshirt junior Alex McKay and sophomore Julia Braig. Taylor has been at her best against the top teams, stopping 10 shots during the win against North Carolina and recording 18 saves during a 17-7 triumph against Syracuse March 11. Taylor posted a career-high 20 saves during Maryland's 18-8 rout of Florida March 29.
"I feel much more confident this year, and I know what to expect," said Taylor, a sociology major. "The people in front of me are making my job easier. They are forcing the lowest-angle shots, and they never give up a free shot. [Opposing] attackers know that they have to get a shot off quickly."
Taylor has built on her successful freshman season by making subtle changes to her game.
"Last year, I moved to the pipe too quickly, and that left an opening," she said. "Now, I'm focusing more on where I am in the cage. That can be the difference between coming up with a save and not stopping a shot."
Taylor's season-long excellence will be put to the test again April 20, when the Terps travel to No. 5 Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 14-1 overall and tied with Maryland at 4-0 in the Big Ten entering the pivotal matchup. The Maryland-Penn State winner will get the inside track for the conference's regular-season championship and the top seeding for the Big Ten tournament, which is set for May 5-7 at Maryland's Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.
"Last year, Penn State put up a very good fight," said Taylor, who was in goal for the Terps' 10-9 victory April 28, 2016. "I expect them to come out strong. Every team brings their best game against us."