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Field Hockey faces second ranked UNC in titanic early season match

In a significant early season match up, the top ranked Maryland Terrapins face off against the second ranked North Carolina Tar Heels as the squads meet for the first time as members of different conferences.

It's time to strap on the shin guards and lace up the shoes as the second ranked North Carolina Tar Heels come to College Park to face the top ranked Maryland Terrapins at 4:00 pm Friday in the sixty-second renewal of NCAA field hockey's greatest rivalry. Lest you think we are engaging in hyperbole, let's take a short walk down memory lane.

A HISTORY LESSON

Field hockey powers

Maryland and North Carolina are two of the all-time powerhouses in NCAA field hockey combining for 42 percent of the 33 NCAA Tournament championships. Maryland claims eight while UNC holds six. North Carolina has been the NCAA runner-up nine times - four of those to the Terps - and Maryland has three championship game losses two to the Tar Heels. The two schools combined to win 28 of 31 ACC Tournament championships with the Tar Heels claiming 18 while the Terps own ten.

Head to head

North Carolina holds a 35-26 all-time edge in the series. However, since the beginning of this century, the teams have met 23 times with Maryland claiming 13 victories. Of those 23 games, six have gone to overtime and one to double overtime. Collectively, the Terps have outscored the Tar Heels 52-44 over that period but Maryland's 7-0 win in 2008 is an aberration. Remove that game and the Terrapins hold a one goal edge in the remaining 22 contests.

Between 2000 and 2013, the squads split four meetings in ACC title games and are 1-1 head to head in ACC Tournament semifinal games. They have met for the national championship on three occasions with UNC picking up a 3-2 win in 2009 and Maryland winning by identical scores in 2010 and 2011.

Each of those games had an epic quality. In 2009, Maryland took a 2-1 lead with just under 8 minutes to play. North Carolina pulled their goalie and tied the score with 4:45 remaining. They notched the game winner with 10.7 seconds left. In 2010, in the last game of all-time great Katie O'Donnell's Terrapins career, Maryland trailed 2-1 before tying the score with under seven minutes left in the game. In front of the largest crowd to watch an NCAA field hockey game, and with just over two minutes to play in the second overtime, O'Donnell intercepted a pass deep in Carolina territory and Megan Frazier scored the game winner prompting this unforgettable call by then WMUC broadcaster Brian Kapur: 

In 2011, Maryland trailed 2-0 when Katie Gerzabek got the Terps on the board with just 3:46 to play. Maryland picked up a penalty corner just before time expired and Jemma Buckley rammed the ball home in the rain with literally no time on the clock. Ten minutes later, Jill Witmer scored the overtime winner.

The teams met twice last year. The Terps picked up a 2-1 overtime win in their regular season contest and defeated the Tar Heels 2-0 in Newton to claim the program's tenth and final ACC Championship. As Maryland head coach Missy Meharg admits, "I'm not a big fan of the word rivalry although I do think that Maryland and North Carolina have played in enough championships to call it a really good rivalry. No game rivals it in the way the teams always bring out the best in each other. Every time we play the University of North Carolina and every time they play Maryland, there's never a better game."

This year's version

In addition to holding the number two spot in the national poll, North Carolina was chosen to win the ACC - a league that features five other teams in the top thirteen. After finishing 18-6 and losing in the national semifinal to eventual national champion Connecticut, UNC lost only four seniors and one regular starter while adding eight freshmen. The Tar Heels placed three players on the pre-season All-ACC squad, junior midfielders s Emily Wold and Emma Bozek and senior forward Charlotte Craddock.

Parity and mirror images

Like the Terps, the Tar Heels have opened the season with two wins. Carolina hosted the ACC-B1G challenge and routed seventeenth ranked Michigan and twentieth ranked Iowa by scores of 5-1 and 4-1 respectively. Maryland opened their season with a 3-2 win over tenth ranked UMass and a 4-1 win over Northeastern. The Terps have out shot their opponents 23 - 5.5 while the Heels hold a 23.5 - 7.5 shots per game average over their foes. Carolina's nine goals have been spread around six players. Though Maryland has scored only seven goals, only the surprising Shari Jones has scored more than once.

Speaking of surprising players, UNC's leading scorer through two games is Loren Shealy who has two goals and two assists for a total of six points. While her teammates received the preseason honors, Shealy's success is not a great surprise to Meharg, "Lauren has always been the hardest worker for their squad. She does the most space clearing. She's very tenacious. If you let her get to the ball first, she's going to deflect it on cage."

One difference the Terps are likely to see is in the goal where it appears that sophomore Shannon Johnson has replaced the more experienced senior Sassi Ammer. "I know Shannon very well," Meharg said. "She's a great goalie and maybe she's bringing a better energy for the defense right now. Either way, both are good goalies and we'll need to move them to put balls in."

Excited to get going

When the teams played in the ACC, the game between Maryland and North Carolina was usually a late season affair. So preparing to face them so early is something of a change. Said Meharg, "It's kind of fun playing Carolina so early because we know them so well and they know us so well. It feels a little different getting prepared for them second week of the season but it's nice for the players. It seems like we played them not long ago."

The players I talked with feel the same way.

Alyssa Parker: "It's different playing them so early. In the past there's been a lot of time to build up to the game. This year we don't have time to over analyze things we're just jumping right into it. Going for the big game right off the bat is very exciting."

Brooke Cabrera: "It feels a bit strange playing Carolina this early in the season. We used to playing them right before the ACC Championship so neither team is as developed as we might normally be. It's going to be really interesting but we're ready for Carolina. I'm excited."

Maxine Fluharty: "It's exciting especially being my final season. It'll be a bunch of firsts and lasts. It's exciting to have such a big game as our home opener. We love playing UNC. It's a great competition and it always has been. It's a fun game and highly competitive so it makes it that much more exciting."

And on a broadcasting note

A few weeks ago the Big ten Network announced it would air two Maryland field hockey games when the Terps host Ohio State and Penn State. Tuesday, BTN Plus announced its schedule and it will air ten more Terrapins games. The full list, which you can see below, begins with Friday's tussle with the Tar Heels.

09/05/14 - vs. #2 North Carolina

09/14/14 - vs. Temple

09/26/14 - at #17 Michigan

09/28/14 - at #16 Michigan State

10/05/14 - vs. #9 Old Dominion

10/12/14 - vs. Penn

10/19/14 - vs. Rutgers

10/24/14 - at Indiana

10/29/14 - vs. #19 American

11/01/14 - vs. #20 Iowa