Having beaten them in the regular season, the Maryland field hockey team once again picked up a measure of revenge against the team that knocked them out of the NCAA Tournament in last year's national semi-final. Sunday's 3-2 win over the Princeton Tigers propelled the Terps to their sixth consecutive Final Four.
The game was a fast paced, tense, well-played affair that merited attention from more than the five hundred spectators who attended.
The first half was a bit like a prize fight and Princeton landed the first blow just a minute and fifty three seconds into the game. An off target Terrapin pass turned the ball over after strong early defensive play by Kasey Tapman and Hayley Turner. Princeton's attack led to an early penalty corner that the Tigers executed perfectly scoring on a shot from the left of the circle to the right post.
Maryland needed just over three minutes to respond with a haymaker of their own and even the score. Sarah Sprink played a ball into the circle that created a Maryland penalty corner. Inserter Anna Dessoye deflected Ali McEvoy's shot high into the goal to knot the score at one all with just under thirty minutes to play in the half.
After the two first round uppercuts the teams began trading jabs but Maryland landed most of them over the ensuing eighteen minutes. The Terps made to deep and dangerous penetrations into the circle in the nineteenth minute but Princeton's defense despite playing without injured Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Julie Reinprecht, prevented a Terrapin shot. Jill Witmer began to open things up for Maryland with a shot in the twenty sixth minute with a backhanded shot from the top of the circle that went high and another shot from the left that earned Princeton goalkeeper Anya Gersoff the first of two saves in a thirty second span. The Terps had great pressure after the second as Gersoff came off her line and couldn't control the rebound. The carom bounced around the circle. Both Alyssa Parker and Dessoye had a chance but neither of them could control the ball and the Tigers defense cleared.
Next it was Princeton's turn. The Tigers had a fast break opportunity in the thirty-first minute. This time Maryland keeper Natalie Hunter made the spectacular save.
Late in the half, following a Terrapin turnover, the Tigers restarted with an aerial that Tapman could quite control. Princeton's Allison Evans picked it up behind her and drove home a shot from just inside the top of the circle with what appeared to be a haymaker that could have left Maryland reeling with just thirty-three seconds left.
But not so fast. The Terps got the ball to Witmer on the restart and the ACC Offensive Player of the Year came through. Somehow the senior cleared space between two Princeton defenders and got off a shot that may have been deflected twice but found the back of the cage tying the score at two with just six seconds to play in the half. "The way that goal happened was really great," said McEvoy of Witmer's goal, "it showed the grittiness of Maryland and gave us a lot of momentum going into the second half."
Maryland started the second half carrying forward the momentum they had picked up from Witmer's goal putting immediate pressure on the Tigers. About two minutes in, a quick Maryland restart after a Princeton turnover led to a one on one opportunity for Emma Rissinger. Gersoff came far off her line to make the kick save taking Rissinger down in the process but leaving the ball bouncing free in the circle. But again, the Terps couldn't control the loose ball and Princeton eventually cleared. But the Terps continued their pressure and Anna Dessoye drove down the left side and passed it to Alyssa Parker who drove it into the circle. Parker sent the ball toward the goal and Witmer came flying down the center, sliding to redirect the ball into the cage and give the Terps their first lead of the game.
The Tigers came back on the attack jabbing the Terps with two penalty corners in the forty-fourth and forty-fifth minutes but they couldn't convert. The Terps didn't retreat into their shell and pressed and pressed looking for an insurance goal on two chronologically close penalty corners of their own. But Maryland couldn't break through. Fortunately, the Terrapin defense was once again solid and stalwart limiting the Tigers to only five shots in the half none of which were on goal.
When the horn sounded, a jubilant Maryland squad knew they were headed back to Norfolk and a chance for their third title in four years. "We're exceedingly excited to move on," Meharg said. "We've been talking about advancing and every single game, we've been talking about advancing our game. I'm very proud of the all of the women for finding a way to beat a very talented, very experienced, and former national champion Princeton." The Terrapins are very familiar with their semi-final opponent, the Duke Blue Devils. This will be the third match between the teams in three weeks. The game will be played on the campus of Old Dominion University at 2 pm Friday.