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NCAA Tournament preview: No. 5 Maryland field hockey vs. No. 13 Virginia

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The Terps open the NCAA Tournament with a matchup against the Cavaliers.

No. 5 Maryland field hockey will begin its quest for its sixth national championship with a first-round matchup with the No. 13 Virginia Cavaliers at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park on Friday.

Maryland (13-6) dropped a close one to Penn State in the Big Ten quarterfinals by a score of 3-2. Prior to their defeat in the Big Ten Tournament, the Terps closed the season on a four-game winning streak.

Virginia (12-8) enjoyed a great turnout in the ACC Tournament with two victories over Boston College and Louisville en route to an appearance in the ACC Championship.

The Terps are back in the NCAA Tournament, while Virginia makes its return to the big dance after a disappointing season in 2020.

These two teams played an incredible game on Oct. 7 that saw Maryland star freshman forward Hope Rose score the game-winning goal in the Terps 2-1 victory.

Maryland and Virginia are a safe bet to playing close games, especially in the NCAA Tournament. In 2019, the former ACC rivals met in the NCAA Tournament with Virginia snagging the 1-0 victory.

The NCAA Tournament is full of competitive field hockey and built on the best playing the best. If the previous matchups are any indication of what’s to come, then College Park is in for a great game to kick off the annual tournament.

Friday’s game will be at 2:30 p.m. and streaming links will be provided on umterps.com.

Now let’s look at the Virginia Cavaliers.

Virginia Cavaliers: (12-8, 3-3 ACC)

2020 record: 7-11, 4-7 ACC

The Virginia Cavaliers are led by head coach Michele Madison, who’s in her 16th season at the helm of the field hockey program. Madison has brought nothing but success to Virginia, earning a 207-112 record, 12 NCAA Tournament appearances and three Final Fours.

The Philadelphia native has amassed a successful coaching career and became the ninth coach in Division I history to achieve 400 victories in 2019 with a 2-0 victory over ACC foe Syracuse. She made unprecedented history early in her career becoming the only coach to take three separate programs to the NCAA Tournament.

Virginia is a perennial contender under Madison’s leadership and is one of the most well-coached teams in the country.

Players to know

Amber Ezechiels, senior back, No. 19 — The Netherlands native led Virginia in goals this season, recording a respective seven goals. Ezechiels is one of the most aggressive players in the ACC, evidenced by her sixth place ranking in shots with 2.72 per game. The aggressive senior has also recorded four assists, to go along with 24 shots on goal this season.

Laura Janssen, junior striker, No. 15 — Janssen has been a consistent contributor for the Cavaliers this season, recording five goals in her junior campaign. The athletic Netherlands native ranks seventh in the ACC for game-winning goals, with three goals with the game on the line. Janssen sent Virginia to the semifinals with a game-winning goal over Boston College. She brings a strong presence on the offensive end with 27 shots on the season.

Noa Boterman, freshman midfielder, No. 25 — The freshman had an impressive debut season for Virginia with five goals in 2021. Boterman ranks second on her club in shots, recording 37 shots and chipped in one assist this season for the Cavaliers. She established herself as a focal point of Virginia’s attack with 15 shots on goal this season.

Strength

Shots. Virginia is an aggressive club bolstered by athletes who are capable of pressuring opponents’ cage at any given moment. The Cavaliers are averaging 15.7 shots per game, showcasing their relentlessness to cause havoc at the cage. Virginia has outshot its opponents by a wide margin of 313-178. This team does not shy away from using angles and speed from constantly getting attempts to get on the board.

Weakness

Scoring. The Cavaliers are one of the best teams in the ACC for their versatility and ability to generate an exorbitant number of shots per game. However, Virginia isn’t the best team when it comes to scoring goals. Virginia hasn’t scored more than three goals in a single game since Oct. 24.

Three things to watch

1. Which Maryland team shows up? Maryland is an efficient team when it is able to turn defense into offense. That means getting into the passing lanes and stifling opponents’ angles to register shots at the cage. The Terps can be exploited when their defense is allowing penetration into the heart of the defense. Virginia has enjoyed a great season thus far and possesses a team that can compete with the best of them. It’s fireworks when these teams face off and Friday should be nothing less.

2. Can Maryland pick up a victory at home? The Terps have held the fort down at home going 7-3 at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex. In their previous two home games, Maryland dominated their opponents with a scoring margin of 9-2 versus then-No. 17 UConn and No. 24 Ohio State. College Park has been a safe haven for the Terps, as they have fed off of the energy from fans being back in the stands.

3. Can the Terps get off to a hot start? Maryland has been a national powerhouse under the leadership of coaching legend Missy Meharg, who’s making her impressive 30th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Meharg has a wealth of experience and will look to defeat Virginia to advance in the NCAA Tournament.