Grace Griffin picked a perfect time for a breakout game offensively.
The only freshman in the Maryland starting lineup scored a career-high four goals and added an assist to lead the No. 3 Terps over its second undefeated team last week, then-No. 2 James Madison, by a 15-12 count on Saturday, two days after they toppled then-No. 7 Penn.
“It was one of those ah-ha moments where you’re like, I belong and I’m here and I’ve worked hard for this and I can contribute to this team,” Griffin said. “That’s really great, especially with the timing of it since we’re halfway through our regular season. It’s like the adjustment period is over, and this is what we’re working with for the rest of the year and we’re going to keep building off it and getting better. That’s really exciting to come off of.”
Griffin has been a key cog for Maryland, which improved to 9-1 with a 17-5 victory over Georgetown on Wednesday. She had another five points in the win on three goals and two assists to raise her season totals to 18 points on 14 goals and four assists, good for fifth on the team.
“She’s such a talented player,” said Maryland coach Cathy Reese. “As the season goes on, we’re seeing her get more and more confident with our system on both the offensive and defensive end. First of all, she’s such a good defender. You’re seeing a lot of her ground balls and caused turnovers come out of the defensive end, and she just does such a good job in her one-on-one defense. She’s really adjusting nicely to the college game. There are so many different rules than you have in high school, and she’s come in and she’s adjusted so nicely.”
Griffin initially had some misgivings about coming to Maryland when the Sykesville, Md., native started to explore colleges four years ago.
“I think it was just stubborn me,” Griffin said. “Freshman year, I wanted to be different. A lot of girls from my area go to Maryland, and I was like, ‘Why do all these people go to Maryland? Is it really that great?’”
One long phone call with Reese and a visit to campus, and she was convinced it was the place for her. She wanted to commit the second her first visit was over, but her mom made her explore other options. She committed shortly thereafter to her home state power, and fast forward four years, and she is confident that she made the right choice.
“It’s honestly such an amazing feeling and such an amazing team with such talented players and supportive coaches,” Griffin said. “It’s been so fun. It’s so exciting, and I still have three and a half years.”
Maryland is excited too after watching Griffin blossom before its eyes. She has taken the midfield spot vacated by the graduation of Zoe Stukenberg. Filling in for the 2017 Tewaaraton Award winner would have been an overwhelming proposition a year ago.
“I would have cried a little bit maybe,” Griffin said. “She’s such an amazing player and such an amazing person. That’s a really big honor.”
Griffin, though, isn’t alone in replacing all that Stukenberg did for the national champions.
Louisville transfer Meghan Siverson has picked up for Stukenberg’s draw controls, and the team as a whole has picked up their play offensively to make up for Stukenberg’s lost scoring. Griffin has fit in and contributed at both ends of the field early.
“To come in as a two-way middie for us at Maryland, to be able to step on the field and make an impact, it shows how much confidence we have in her and the importance of her role for us this year,” Reese said. “I really only have her and Jen Giles as my two who are running both ends of the field right now. She’s done a tremendous job.”
Griffin didn’t go into the JMU game looking to be more aggressive, but she showed her game sense by finding what Maryland needed. Three of her four goals came on free position shots because she was aggressive.
“Defensively, the way they played us, they were smart [and] they knew who our top scorers were,” Griffin said. “They knew Megan Whittle is amazing going to goal, and Jen as well and Caroline Steele. So much attention was on them. I was able to find a few openings, my teammates were able to find me in the middle and I was able to finish shots, which I know anyone else would have done on the field. I guess it was just I was finding the openings and it helped out.”
“I can be better on the offensive end, being a bigger threat,” she added. “If I’m more of a threat and I draw more attention to myself, it will open my teammates up. I want to help more with that.”
The fall helped her transition to the college level and adjust to the speed and intensity of the game. She picked things up quickly while finding her role.
“The biggest adjustment was defensively,” Griffin said. “You’re playing against these amazing people all the time. Adjusting to that and not losing my game, that was the biggest thing. Coming in, I wanted to learn so much. I wanted to be as good as the other players, but I also had to know what kind of player I was and not so much try to play like someone else, but focus on improving personally, learning from others and being the best I could be for the team.”
Griffin has been solid defensively from the start. Through 10 games, she already has eight caused turnovers – as many as Stukenberg had her entire freshman year – and is third on the team with 16 ground balls, which is only five shy of what Stukenberg had her freshman year.
“She’s a player who’s always looking to learn, always looking to do what she can to improve, and then the fact that you come in and she’s already a good defender, that makes adjusting to college a smoother transition,” Reese said. “I’m really impressed by her defensively.”
With her background, Griffin adds to Maryland’s athleticism. At Liberty High School (Md.), she was also a standout basketball player, who was twice named all-Carroll County and was named second-team All-State as a senior.
“I miss basketball a lot actually,” Griffin said. “We played in the fall for our Terp Olympics. As one of our days, we played basketball. That was so much fun. I loved it, but I play lacrosse for a reason. But in the winter when it was cold out, I was thinking, ‘I could be in a warm gym playing basketball right now.’ But it’s fine.”
Griffin is surrounded by big names, and as intimidating as that was in the early going, it’s also proven helpful to have some talent and experience around her. She’s heard repeatedly that she belongs, which boosted her confidence.
“The upperclassmen have been amazing,” Griffin said. “It’s a mix of both. You learn from doing, but I feel comfortable along with all the other freshmen going up to a senior or junior and asking a question if I’m not sure of anything. Jen Giles has been amazing helping me with everything on both sides of the field, as well as Julia Braig. They want you to do well and they believe in you and trust you. It gives you a lot of confidence when they give you that advice and when you do something well and they’re so excited for you. That’s the best feeling.”
Griffin comes from a big family with three sisters and a brother. Her oldest sister Claire graduated last year from Division III’s Messiah College, and she and Maggie played together one year at Liberty. Her younger sister Mary is a junior who has committed to play at Virginia Tech and will be going through her own adjustment to college that Grace Griffin has done so smoothly this year.
“College is a tough adjustment for anyone,” Reese said, “but there’s so many people around her to feed off of and learn from that I think the rest of the team is fired up because they can see what she’s capable of doing and what she’ll bring to the team. Next year, she’ll be one of these faces that the freshmen are learning from.”