In NCAA sports, the weekend of November 18, 2006 featured two match-ups between teams ranked number one and number two in their respective sports. On Saturday, people were likely focused on Columbus, Ohio where number one Ohio State faced off in football against number two ranked Michigan. By Sunday, some of us had turned our attention south to Winston Salem, North Carolina to watch the number two ranked Maryland Terrapins face off against the top seeded Wake Forest Demon Deacons for the 2006 NCAA field hockey national championship.
The Terrapins and Demon Deacons had met twice with Maryland squeezing out a 3-2 regular season win at Wake Forest while the Deacons had picked up a 1-0 victory in the ACC Tournament in Chapel Hill. The Terps advanced to the final by taking a penalty stroke shootout over UConn while Wake also needed an overtime period to eliminate ACC rival Duke.
The game was also a contest between a Wake Forest team that boasted the nation's top ranked offense and Maryland which featured the stingiest defense in the NCAA. In a move designed to further curtail the potent Demon Deacon offense, Coach Meharg elected to keep the Terrapins second leading scorer, Paula Infante, in a more defensive position in the back of the midfield.
Still, with just over five minutes remaining in the first half, it was Infante who helped set up the Terps' score. She fired a long pass on a restart to freshman Ameliet Rischen in the circle who gathered the ball in and took one of Maryland's six first half shots. Deacon goalie Crystal Duffield blocked the attempt but couldn't control the rebound. In the ensuing scamble, and with Duffield still prone, senior forward Emily Trycinski picked up her seventh tally of the season flicking the ball over the goal line. Meanwhile, the defensive strategy was working to perfection as the Terps allowed the Deacons only a single penalty corner and without a shot for the half.
After the game, Meharg said that she and the team felt confident with the slim 1-0 halftime lead because of the team's attention to detail and the way they were executing the game plan. And they came out of the locker room with that same level of execution denying Wake a shot attempt for the first seven minutes of the second half but junior goalkeeper Kathryn Masson was up to the task and made the save.
Before the game ended the Demon Deacons developed one more extremely dangerous opportunity. With nineteen minutes to play in regulation and Masson off her line Wake Forest forward Christine Suggs intercepted the attempted clear just inside the circle but her shot at the open net drifted just wide. The Terps survived one final scare on Wake's only penalty corner of the period with twelve and a half minutes to play but the Terrapin defense prevented the Deacons from getting off a shot.
The Terps closed out the game holding on to that 1-0 lead and claim back to back national titles for the first time in the program's history. It was Maryland's fifth national championship and fourth under Coach Meharg. Meharg believes this milestone game and achievement helped turn Maryland into a consistently dominant program.
Next up, a return trip to the Bluegrass State.