Number two Maryland hosted #12 Albany in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Field Hockey Championships at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex on a chilly Sunday afternoon in College Park. Albany was the Cinderella of this year's tournament. The Great Danes won the America East and set a school record for wins in a season with nineteen. They beat Wake Forest for their first ever NCAA Tournament win Saturday. They were unseeded in the tournament and the Terps were seeded second.
This was a David vs. Goliath match-up. Maryland was 22-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament games at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex and the Terps have more NCAA Tournament wins than any other school. Like David in that biblical match-up, Albany was unafraid of the moment and they emerged victorious.
There was a lot of back and forth early on in the first half with neither team getting an offensive chance until Albany earned a penalty corner with a little over 25 minutes left to play in the first half. Albany got another penalty corner opportunity with a little over 21 minutes to play and Paula Heuser, the NCAA's leader in goals scored, took a hard shot but it was saved by Maryland goalkeeper Brooke Cabrera.
With under 18 minutes to play in the first half Albany set up for another penalty corner. Heuser was a decoy and gave it off to Echo Bretz who gave it back to Heuser. Heuser's shot was stopped by Cabrera but there was a scrum for the ball and Bretz somehow got it past Cabrera to score the first goal of the game and put Albany on top 1-0.
With under 12 minutes to play Emma Rissinger found herself in a one on one situation with the Albany goalie Maxi Primus and passed it instead, trying to make a good shot for herself into a greater shot for her teammate. Rissinger missed on the connection and turned it over. Maryland's first penalty corner of the game came with close to 10 minutes to play and Primus came up with a big save to keep the Terps from scoring the equalizer.
With under five minutes left in the first half Maryland cleared a penalty corner but couldn't establish possession to mount an attack of their own. Katie Gerzabek took a stick to the face with almost two and half minutes left to play and was in serious pain. She was bleeding and had to come out of the game but would return for the second half.
Albany dominated the first half of play, leading the Terps in shots 8-5 and 5-2 in penalty corners. Albany was able to blunt Maryland's attack in the first half and took a 1-0 lead into halftime.
The Great Danes scored again with 27:26 left to play in regulation to make it 2-0. Heuser, who had been huge all game-long, passed to Pahila Arnold off of a penalty corner, who buried it for the goal. Maryland looked a little bit shell-shocked but continued to show great toughness and energy.
Maryland was able to get a couple of decent looks but Albany continued to press with its defense. Maryland got a penalty corner opportunity with under 20 minutes left but botched the penalty corner. The Terps couldn't settle the ball after Anna Dessoye played it in and Maryland couldn't get another penalty corner off of it. Albany took a time-out with 17:30 left to play, holding a 2-0 lead.
Albany earned a penalty corner with under 15 to play, trying to create a lead that would be incredibly tough to overcome. Maryland's defense snuffed it out and then tried to launch a counter attack of their own but poor passing let the Great Danes break it up. With almost 10 minutes left to play, Maryland earned a penalty corner to try and halve the deficit and couldn't capitalize.
Emma Rissinger missed a point-blank opportunity with almost nine minutes to play and you could feel Maryland becoming a little deflated. Maryland head coach Missy Meharg called time-out around the eight minute mark to calm her team down. Meharg pulled her goalie and put in another attacker and the strategy worked. Welma Luus, a senior, got Maryland on the board with a goal with 6:45 left in the game and suddenly the Maryland crowd came alive. Alyssa Parker drew a penalty corner. Maryland earned another as the clock approached three minutes to play. The Great Danes' defense held on and cleared the ball.
The Terps tried to find the equalizer but came up empty as the Albany Great Danes held on for the shocking upset victory. This Terps team had made six straight Final Fours and hadn't lost in the second round since 2007. Maryland was the only seeded team to fall before the Final Four as UNC will take on Syracuse and defending champion UConn will play Albany.
"They are a tenacious team with incredible set pieces and their goaltender was outrageous today," said Meharg after the game. Albany was the better team on the field today and their victory was well-deserved. Alyssa Parker said that Albany had great skill and that threw them off early on. Maryland has had trouble playing from behind this season. Meharg said that this team's losses have come when the team struggles in the first half shooting and scoring. She said, "You can't warm up to an underdog. There's no time to warm up. You have to step on them." Maryland out-shot Albany 6-2 in the second half and had a 4-2 edge in penalty corners but in the end, Meharg summed it up best, "Maryland brought a lot to the table a little bit too late."
Heuser was a force for Albany throughout the game and she was a game-changer even though she didn't score. In fact, the NCAA's leading goal scorer has yet to score in the NCAA Tournament. "We're not expected to be here...I was blown away by our kids' beliefs in themselves," said Albany head coach Phil Sykes. Primus said that Albany came out and just wanted to enjoy the game and try to play their style. Sykes laughed when asked what his plan was going into the Final Four and he replied, "We didn't really anticipate going into next week."
This Albany team has the talent to win it all. The Great Danes have already made history. Now they're dancing into the Final Four for the first time and they don't want the music to end.