Meharg's Top Wins Number 2 - A Comeback for the Ages

The Terps defend their 2010 title from an unusual and unexpected starting point.

When we last left the Maryland field hockey team in Louisville the unseeded Terrapins had just handily defeated the Old Dominion Monarchs 4-0 to advance to the NCAA title game for the third consecutive year. And, for the third consecutive year, they'd be facing off against their ACC rivals the North Carolina Tar Heels. Having taken dwon the third and second seeded teams in the quarters and semis, the Terps would need to complete a trifecta against the top seeded Tar Heels. Carolina had earned their way into the game by scoring three goals in the last thirteen minutes of regulation including two in the final 54 seconds before scoring the winning goal in the second overtime to eliminate the UConn Huskies. Making the matchup even more compelling, UNC claimed the title in 2009 scoring the game winning goal with 11.9 seconds to go while in 2010, Maryland captured the crown winning in double overtime. Both games finished with identical 3-2 final scores.

The weather in Louisville on that Sunday the twentieth of November was cold and wet as rain fell consistently throughout the contest. For the Terrapin faithful, the opening thirty-five minutes matched the day playing out with very few rays of sunshine. Carolina opened the scoring just over nine minutes into the game. An intercepted pass followed by a quick cross left goalie Melissa Vassalotti in an almost defenseless position.

The Terps fought back, drawing a penalty corner just over six minutes later but sophomore Ali McEvoy's shot went just wide. Little did Maryland fans suspect that this would be the Terps only shot of the half. Meanwhile, Carolina countered drawing a penalty corner of their own but Vassalotti came up big saving both the initial shot and the rebound. The Tar Heels continued to put pressure on the Terrapin defense drawing three more corners in the final four and a half minutes but each time, Vassalotti stepped up to the challenge making big save after big save keeping the deficit to a manageable one goal at the intermission. Still, the Terps would have to find a way to break through an often impenetrable Tar Heel defense that had allowed only 21 goals in their previous 24 games in a season that included twelve shutouts and a stretch of six in a row.

The second half didn't begin well for the Terps as they continued to have difficulties penetrating the Tar Heel defense. However, the Maryland defense was equally stingy and neither team attempted a shot for over twenty-five minutes. Terrapin freshman Maxine Fluharty broke the drought firing a shot just wide with just over eight minutes to play. A quick restart and Carolina counter attack led to their second score of the after noon and with under eight minutes left, the day was growing colder and grayer for the Maryland faithful.

After Carolina's goalie saved a shot by Katie Gerzabek, another Terp freshman, Coach Meharg pulled Vassalotti to allow Maryland to increase the pressure. The move paid off when junior Harriet Tibble took a long restart toward the baseline and made a perfect pass to Gerzabek who redirected it past the near post to bring the Terps back within one with just 3:46 remaining in regulation.

Meharg then elected to reinsert Vassalotti and the move paid off as the senior came up with another big save with a minute and a half to go. When a quick long pass downfield went wide giving possession back to the Tar Heels, the Terps gambled a bit on defense pressuring the restart and forcing a turnover. The tactic paid off and Maryland drew corner with just about a minute left to play. Since the corner had to be played out, the Terps put all their eggs in that basket and let the clock wind down to zero. Janessa Pope inserted the ball to Tibble who made the stop and pushed the ball to Jemma Buckley. When Buckley's long sweeping shot on the sodden field smacked the board at the back of the goal, the Maryland bench erupted in a scene reminiscent of one in Boston in 2006.

The overtime got off to a good start for the Terps with Maryland drawing an early corner but failing to capitalize. Then North Carolina star Kasey Kolojejchick drew a yellow card giving the Terps a five minute player advantage that should be particularly difficult to defend in the seven on seven overtime. Carolina not only defended it but went on the attack, forcing Vassalotti to make two big saves. UNC had successfully killed trhe penalty when Meharg made a brilliant substitution inserting Jill Witmer into the game where she could take a pass while on the run. Witmer used her exceptional speed to sprint through a spread out Tar Hell defense and rip home a high shot from the right completing the Terps miracle comeback and allowing them to bring home their second consecutive national championship.

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