Maryland Field Hockey came into their game against American on a three game skid, a losing streak that hadn't been seen since 1998. That's right. It was last century. However, Maryland had a couple of things going for them in their matinee match-up.
First, history is on their side. The Terps are 40-1 all-time against the Eagles and they've won the last 14 games in a row. Maryland crushed American 8-1 in College Park last season. Second, the Terrapins are playing in the friendly confines of the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex where they sport a 139-17 record since the Complex opened in 2003.
Maryland honored their 2005 national championship team in a half-time ceremony. That team went 23-2, won the ACC title and beat Duke 1-0 to win Maryland's fourth national title. It was Missy Meharg's third national title as Maryland's head coach.
Maryland applied heavy pressure for much of the first 10 minutes but couldn't come up with anything. American had very little success in counter-attacking, creating only a pair of opportunities.
Maryland's Welma Luus, tied for third on the team in goals, had to come out of the game due to injury. She would return. American's defense was doing a nice job of cutting off the passing lanes once Maryland got into the shooting circle and clearing the ball time and time again.
Finally, the Terps broke through. Anna Dessoye sent in Maryland's first penalty corner of the day and Sarah Sprink sent a rocket into the bottom right corner of the cage with 20:14 left in the half.
Julie Duncan scored Maryland's second goal of the game, and the first of her Maryland career, just a few minutes later off of a pass from Shari Jones. Duncan nearly scored again but was able to draw a penalty corner for the Terps. Maryland took a 3-0 lead on Linnea Gonzales' goal off of the penalty corner and American called time-out.
Lein Holsboer also went down for the Terps towards the end of the half. She would return for the second half. American had a penalty corner in the closing minutes but they couldn't muster a shot. Maryland out-shot American 14-1 and went into the half with a commanding 3-0 lead.
Maryland missed a golden opportunity when Faye Curran sent a pass to Gonzales. She had a one on one with Kate McBeath, the Eagles goalie. McBeath dived before Gonzales even shot and Gonzales didn't control the ball well. It got away from her and she missed the chance to shoot and score on an open goal.
American had two corners but only got a shot off once and it wasn't on goal. American's Grace Parke took advantage of a defensive breakdown and ended the shut-out. The Eagles had the ball down in the Maryland third on the right side of the goal and Parke slid behind the defense. Maryland's defenders didn't turn their heads around and Parke corralled the slow pass and slotted it past Jill Genovese.
Maryland responded quickly. They took the ball down and Shari Jones earned a penalty corner. Sprink scored her second goal of the game to push the lead back to three. American earned a penalty corner of their own but Genovese made a diving stop to keep the score at 4-1.
Sprink notched a hat trick after taking Dessoye's pass off of a penalty corner, deking one defender, dribbling into space and firing a shot into the goal. American got a penalty corner with just over two and half minutes to play but couldn't score. Maryland clamped down and Gonzales' shot was wide left in the final minute. The Terps earned an penalty corner as time expired and then another when American failed to clear it. Lein Holsboer finished off the game on a high note for the Terps, scoring Maryland's sixth goal of the game.
Maryland out-shot American 25-6 and put Kate McBeath in a shooting gallery the entire game. She made 13 saves but in the end, it was not nearly enough. Maryland scored five of their six goals off of penalty corners, an area where they struggled coming into this game.
American couldn't create chances in the first half and then they failed to create good enough chances consistently once they were in a big hole in the second half. Maryland out-played American this afternoon. They played a cleaner game and executed when they needed to.
Sarah Sprink had a monster game and the senior captain scored her first three goals of the season, all on penalty corners. "I think that was Maryland field hockey," Sprink said after the game, "Finishing." Sprink said that she wanted to come out excited to play today after the team's recent losses. She added that there was some tough talk after Friday's game. "We talked as a team about did you give 100 percent? If not, then you need to reach that. Today, almost all of us reached that 100 percent."
The losing streak is over. Maryland got back in the win column after soundly defeating a team that they beat 8-1 last year. American is a good team but not a great team. Boston College, Duke, and Albany are great teams. They are ranked for a reason. Maryland lost by one goal to each of them and lost two of those in overtime.
Today's win is a nice confidence boost for the offense because Maryland was finishing off their penalty corners. They scored five of their six goals off of them. Meharg noted the difference in how the team executed, saying, "It feels good. It feels right to get on the board when you take so many shots. You work hard and you earn them...That's what we've been after."
Meharg said that the goalie competition between Sarah Holliday and Jill Genovese will continue. Holliday got the start and shut-out the Eagles in the first half while Genovese allowed the lone American goal but also made a world-class save on a shot late in the second half.
Meharg doesn't put any stock into Maryland's 3-3 record this early in the season. "If you did that, I don't think you could coach for a living. To me, it's about another day and another opportunity."
Despite their .500 record, the reality remains that Maryland is a very deep and very talented team. They will welcome top-10 Northwestern, a team they have yet to beat as members of the Big Ten, to College Park next Friday. Northwestern beat Maryland in their first-ever Big Ten game and then beat the Terps again in the Big Ten tournament final.
Three of Maryland's next four games will be against ranked opponents. Northwestern represents an enormous challenge to Maryland not just because of their skill but also because the Wildcats beat them twice last year. Maryland cannot afford to lose their focus.
This team has been uncharacteristically vulnerable this season -- albeit against great teams -- and their game against Northwestern next Friday won't just reveal whether or not the Terps remain the favorites to repeat as Big Ten champions. It may reveal whether or not they have the grit, the tenacity, and the mental toughness to make a legitimate run at the national title. That is the bottom line.