Sophie Halus' speed leads Maryland women's lacrosse's push attack


Maryland women's lacrosse defender Sophie Halus grabbed a ground ball less than five minutes into her Terps debut.

The Colorado transfer raced between the two midfield lines and launched a quick counterattack that gave Maryland a clear position. Attacker Libby May failed to convert the shot, but Maryland coaches saw potential in Halus' fast-paced attacks.

The junior has only started once since joining an experienced defensive unit. But Halus' speed allows her to play in different areas of the court to help generate many of the Terps' offensive sets that start in the defensive zone.

“After [Saint Joseph’s] Game, Cathy … told me to run so fast every game,” Halus said. “From now on, when I get the ball, I have the green light to go all the way. It’s cool to have that freedom and it’s nice to be able to push fast breaks like that and know that everyone else on the team is behind me and encouraging that.”

Maryland plays primarily with six defenders – including Emily Sterling in goal – three midfielders and three attackers. Teams are only allowed to have seven players on each side of the restricted line, i.e. seven players each in the defensive and offensive zones, excluding the goalkeeper.

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Some teams get into the attacking zone through their midfielders. In trainer Cathy Reese's setup, Halus does it himself.

As she pushes up the pitch, a midfielder holds onto the sideline before stepping in as a substitute. Halus attempts to pass to an attacking player after entering the attacking zone. Once she does this, she retreats and an attacker replaces her for the attacking possession.

These quick breaks get the Terps on offense without burning too much time outside of the 90-second shot clock. Maryland doesn't always score when it plays fast, but it makes sure it has the most time possible on offense.

Attacker Hannah Leubecker sees Halus' quick game in transition as another dimension to the Terps' attack. Defender Meghan Ball says she always tries to get the ball to Halus, “one of the fastest people” with whom she has shared the field.

Maryland prides itself on its speed all over the field. Halus joining the Terps is proof of that.

“It was a game earlier in the season and she got a ground ball and just beat everyone on the field,” Reese said. “And we were all like, 'Woah, that was great.' But seeing their explosive bursts of speed, and that’s huge for us in transition… that’s a strength of our program.”

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Halus' speed didn't come naturally. She was a multi-sport athlete throughout high school and began running track in her senior year. There she honed her ability to race against opposing defenders.

Halus said she learned the technicalities of running in her only season on the track. She paid more attention to the science behind running, particularly the positioning of the foot on the ground in relation to her body. This is where her speed came to the fore.

“It's about the positioning of my ankles and how my knees and ankles are under my hips,” Halus said. “Your foot has to be at a certain height when it hits the ground… your feet have to stay under your hips and everything has to be aligned, which I literally didn't know about until the track.”

Halus will continue to move from defense to offense and open up offensive options for the Terps. They haven't had a single defender score a goal all season. Halus could be the first.

“They gave me the green light to shoot, but it’s not at the top of my priority list,” Halus said. “Because if I miss, I have to run all the way back. So maybe one day I’ll shoot, but right now I love just drawing and passing the defense.”