What proved to be a very good Sunday for Maryland Terrapins fans got its start in Chestnut Hill, MA where the top seeded Terps downed the North Carolina Tar Heels 2-0. The win gave Maryland the program's tenth and final ACC Tournament championship as the Terrapins leave the ACC with both the regular season and tournament titles.
The first half was a tense scoreless affair though the Terps generally had many more and better opportunities. My notes say that Carolina had the early advantage and pressure but by about eight minutes in, Maryland began to assert itself and had control of the flow of the game. After the match, Terrapin head coach Missy Meharg corroborated that notion saying, "In the beginning of the game, we fell away a lot, so the momentum went toward North Carolina. When we settled in and really started passing, it was evident that we were in control of the game. There are 10 field players for each team and Maryland used all 10 all the time."
The Terps had several dangerous chances around the ten minute mark. The first came after Jill Witmer intercepted a pass in Carolina's zone and drove down the left side. Freshman Mieke Hayn just missed a shot as her redirect went wide. About a minute later Hayn intercepted a pass and pushed the ball ahead to Maxine Fluharty but her pass toward Alyssa Parker was well defended and didn't result in a shot. In the twelfth minute, UNC was issued a yellow card giving Maryland a five minute player advantage with an immediate penalty corner. Maxine Fluharty had her shot blocked. Maryland had another great chance on a long through ball (possibly from Katie Gerzabek) to Alyssa Parker. Parker got off a shot from a tough angle while covered by two Tar Heel defenders.
A potential point of controversy came in the twenty-fourth minute on a Maryland penalty corner. Sarah Sprink had her shot blocked and the officials initially ruled that the Carolina defender had touched the ball with her foot inside the cage frame. The ruling would have given Maryland a penalty stroke. After a video review overturned the call the Terps had to settle for another short corner. They ran a play similar to one they used against Duke with Ali McEvoy flaring wide to the left to take the inserting pass and crossing it to Sprink on the right of the circle. However, Sprink didn't handle the pass cleanly and the Tar Heels cleared. Notice I haven't made mention of UNC threatening Maryland's goal. They didn't. Though the teams each had fourteen possessions inside the twenty five, nearly all of the Terrapin possessions generated dangerous chances (of which the Terps had two more before the half ended) while few of Carolina's did. Nevertheless, neither team could break through and the teams went to the half tied at zero.
The Terps opened the second half with possession and immediately went on the attack. Thirty seconds in Emma Rissinger took a long pass from Witmer and opened some space in the circle. Carolina goalkeeper Sassi Ammer came off her line and deflected the freshman's shot. With the ball trickling toward the goal a Tar Heel defender raced behind the keeper and poked the ball clear just before it crossed the line. Ammer came up with a big save on the ensuing penalty corner. About two minutes later, Witmer drove down the right side and, as they say in basketball, broke her defender's legs leaving her sprawled on the ground. She made a near perfect centering pass to Rissinger but Ammer again cut off the angle and made the save.
One thing these Terps seem to know is that the pressure eventually pays off and it did just that a minute later. Hayley Turner and Mieke Hayn played a little two woman game down the right side with Turner taking a give and go from Hayn and driving the ball in along the baseline. Turner centered the ball to Witmer and the All-ACC forward drove her shot high into the cage for a 1-0 Maryland lead. The Terps didn't need long to double their lead. In the forty third minute, the Terps drew another short corner. Anna Dessoye played the initial pass in to Fluharty who made the stop and pushed the ball to McEvoy. McEvoy launched a blistering shot that Ammer saved but that was too hard for her to control. The carom came to Dessoye who placed herself into position to pick up just such a rebound and she notched her tenth goal of the season.
Before I close out this recap, I need to mention the Terrapin defense. Until they pulled their goalie with over thirteen minutes to play, North Carolina managed only three shots with none on goal. I was delighted to hear one of the commentators mention not just the play of Maryland's defense, which starts with All-ACC performer Ali McEvoy, but to also single out Kasey Tapman who played another exceptional game for the Terps. Tapman generally doesn't get the recognition of Maryland's other defenders because she rarely leaves the back. The Terrapin defense was so locked in that when Rissinger drew a five minute yellow card in the sixty second minute essentially giving the Tar Heels a two player advantage for five of the final nine minutes the Terps still shut them down. Even with this advantage, Carolina only managed five additional shots with only two on goal.
Jill Witmer was named the Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the All-Tournament team by Ali McEvoy, Hayley Turner, and Sarah Sprink. Maryland has the ACC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland has already faced twelve of the eighteen other teams in this year's tournament and in fifteen of their twenty-one games to date. The field includes all seven ACC teams. The Terps will face the winner of Wednesday's "play in" game between Quinnipiac and American on Saturday November 18. The potential quarter-final opponent will be either Penn State (Michigan St. is the other B1G school in the field) or Princeton. The Final Four will be held the following weekend on the campus of Old Dominion.