Wednesday morning I had the chance to spend a few minutes talking with Maryland's field hockey head coach Missy Meharg and her tri-captains about the upcoming season that opens in Philadelphia on Saturday when the Terrapins take on the University of New Hampshire Wildcats in Temple's Conference Cup tournament. The consistent theme of the morning is that this year's edition of the Terps is going to all about team: team cohesion, team effort, and team play.
The 2012 Terps roster featured eight seniors - a group that included one time Honda Award winner Megan Frazer. When asked how she will replace that experience Meharg ticked off the names each of her current six seniors saying that they are all playing at a very high level and that the improvement she typically sees between a player's junior and senior years is inspiring as a coach and that holds true for this group. In the first indication of the importance of team play, the coach noted, "We don't really have a superstar and in that regard we don't have someone who not only is a superstar but wants to be set out as a superstar so in that way we really play very good team hockey. They really appreciate each other in that way."
There may be no superstar on the team but the coach did gush a bit about preseason All-ACC forward Jill Witmer calling her a dynamic goal scorer and the fastest player I've ever seen on the ball. "We're going to score goals," Meharg said. "We're going to keep playing a fast paced, flair style of hockey that the fans like and that the players like and can have a lot of fun playing."
When asked what she thinks it will take for the Terps to recapture the NCAA championship, Meharg started with some "coach speak" but then provided some very real insight saying, "We need to stay present. They've defined it already. We need to stay very dedicated and we also need to stay off the fringe and off the poor decisions. It's all about the decisions the women are willing not to make off the field. It's hard to be a regular civilian. You can't be a regular student. You have to make your choices and when everybody wants to go out and go to music things, and hangout all night, they just can't. These are the sacrifices that championship teams know. They really monitor what each other are doing. I always say to them ‘how you do one thing is how you're going to do all things.' I don't see any reason that this Maryland team can't play to the level that we've seen in the past and if not with more unity." (There's that team theme again.)
The coach is excited about the move to the B1G and noted that the league had four teams ranked in the preseason top fifteen. She feels that while there won't be an immediate rivalry like Maryland has with UNC, there will be no significant drop off in competition and that Maryland's presence will make everyone feel compelled to take it to a new level. She also revealed that the Terrapin - Tar Heel rivalry will continue in 2014 when Maryland hosts Carolina on September fifth.
I also had the chance to chat with each of this year's tri-captains as voted by their teammates. First up was redshirt junior goalie Brooke Cabrera. Cabrera's role is to help with team chemistry and leadership. Of Cabrera, her coach said, "It's really important in a college setting to have a captain that's like the chief. A chief for off the field and on the field, who knows what's going on with everyone and is generally very compassionate and straightforward." Cabrera, who feels very excited and honored to be recognized by her teammates as a captain, talked about the humility of the team and how, "we know we have to work for it" (a championship).
Preseason All-ACC performer Ali McEvoy is the only senior among the triumvirate. She will be an on field captain and told us that what separates this team from past Maryland teams is that, "We have a lot of unity. We all get along. There're not any cliques." She also talked about the team's ‘Grrr factor' which means being gritty, and working hard for each other to get to the ultimate goal. She also credited her teammates for pushing her on and off the field for her All-ACC honor.
Finally, we met with the other on field captain, sophomore Sarah Sprink. Sprink will serve as the team's official's captain and will be the liaison as the ACC and NCAA move into using a referral system. Sprink described the preseason as one in which the Terps were able to bond as a (here it comes again) team. They shared a competitive paint ball outing as well as themed dinners - a German night, an English night, and an American night. She said, "It worked as a concept because on the field we work so much better together because we know each other off the field."
The Terps open with three games on the road beginning with Saturday's tussle against UNH in Philadelphia before debuting their new ‘black-ops" uniforms in the home opener against Drexel on Sunday, September eighth.