The Maryland Terrapins field hockey team lost two games in the 2014 season. The first came at College Park to North Carolina and the second happened in Evanston where they fell to the Northwestern Wildcats 3-2 the their first ever Big Ten game. Sunday afternoon Maryland failed to gained any measure of revenge, once again falling to the Wildcats 3-1 and failing to capture the B1G Tournament Championship.
Prelude to a Championship Game
I arrived at the southeast side of Michigan's campus which is the location of most of the athletic facilities including the Crisler Center and Michigan Stadium. There's no real feeling of being on a college campus as you drive through a residential area and then you're there. I have nothing but praise for the cordiality and helpfulness of all the Michigan folks that I met along the way. And, of course it was delightful to stop by the Terps' field hockey parents pregame tailgate. Also as part of the pregame festivities, the conference played recordings of both schools' fight songs (or in Maryland's case, the victory song).
First half - Slow start
The opening 18 minutes shaped up as largely a battle in the midfield. Neither squad had a significant advantage in time of possession or in creating truly threatening chances in the offensive side of the field. Maryland coach Missy Meharg calls field hockey a game of invasion and, while each team made occasional forays into the scoring circle, neither looked comfortable trying to handle Michigan's bouncy blue turf despite having played several games there in both the regular season and the B1G Tournament.
By the first half media timeout, Northwestern had managed the game's lone shot. It came from a difficult angle after a drive along the back line and Maryland's Brooke Cabrera easily made the save.
After the timeout - Picking up the pace
Maryland drew the game's first green card - a two minute penalty on Maxine Fluharty but the Terps successfully killed the player advantage. However, the Wildcats drew the first penalty corner in the 25th minute. Fluharty blocked the initial shot but Maryland couldn't clear the circle and Northwestern's Charlotte Martin pulled the ball out of the scrum and found Lisa McCarthy for the score. The Wildcats had a 1-0 lead with just under 11 minutes to play in the half.
Maryland needed barely two minutes to get the equalizer. The Terrapins' score came on their first and only penalty corner of the half. It was a simple injection from Anna Dessoye to Katie Gerzabek. Gerzabek made a clean stop - not always an easy task on this field - and pushed the ball to Sarah Sprink. Sprink just blistered her shot inside the left post.
Each team had additional one chance in the half. Northwestern's came on back to back penalty corners in the 29th minute but the Terps' defense was solid on both occasions and kept the score even. Maryland's came from the run of play in the 30th minute when Gerzabek had some space in the circle. But the Wildcats' Maddy Carpenter, the first team All Big Ten goalie and Tournament MVP, made the save.
Said Meharg, "In the small one one one battles, they were beating us up and we were falling away from the one on one battles. They were getting corners against us. Our structure was off. Our passing was off. We didn't do the things we went out to do."
Second half - More Wildcats success
The opening two minutes of the half belonged to Maryland as the Terps threatened but weren't terribly dangerous. The game's next three minutes were all Northwestern. The Wildcats drew three consecutive penalty corners and after the Terps prevented scores on the first two, Isabel Flens picked the goal on the third try.
Northwestern continued to press the play and maintained a fairly tight grip on the action until the 49th minute when Maryland appeared to draw a penalty corner. However, the far umpire overruled the initial call. Maryland asked for a video review that showed the initial penalty corner call was correct. However, the Wildcats' defense blocked Sprink's shot and successfully cleared.
The next controversy came with just under 14 minutes to play when Maryland challenged the awarding of a penalty corner to the Wildcats. In this instance the call was upheld leaving Maryland without a video challenge. The Wildcats scored again off a penalty corner in the sixty-third minute to take a 3-1 lead and force Missy Meharg to pull Cabrera from the goal.
With 1:15 left, the Terps drew a pair of penalty corners but failed to take advantage of either and the Wildcats claimed the Big Ten Tournament title.
Wrapping it up
"Certainly a disappointing outcome," Meharg said after the game. "Northwetern played with a vengeance and at a championship level. They played to fight their way into an NCAA Tournament and that's what NCAA sports are all about - getting an automatic qualifier. I think that Maryland had a bit too much confidence going in that possibly this would be a game that we would win before we actually won it."
Junior co-captain Sarah Sprink, who along with Maxine Fluharty was one of two Terps named to the All-Tournament Team, said, "We didn't play very well. We didn't come out with the same energy that we're used to which makes us play really well. We just had a lack of energy today."
The Terps are likely to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament Saturday and Sunday. College Park will also host the Final Four on the weekend of November 21st.