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Final Four preview: No. 5 Maryland field hockey vs. No. 9 Liberty

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The Terps defeated No. 10 Syracuse, 2-1 to advance to the Final Four.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

And now we’re down to four.

The No. 5 Maryland Terrapins will open the NCAA Final Four with a matchup with the No. 9 Liberty Flames on Friday, Nov. 19 at Phyllis Ocker Field in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The game begins at noon and can be streamed on ESPN+.

The Terps protected home field with two victories over two formidable opponents in No. 13 Virginia and No. 10 Syracuse.

University of Maryland legend Missy Meharg is leading the charge for the Terps in their 19th appearance in the Final Four.

Maryland overcame adversity in the second half of its quarterfinals matchup, with a game-winning goal by Bibi Donraadt in the fourth quarter to put the Terps in a position to get their itineraries set for a trip to the Final Four.

Liberty put the NCAA on notice with a momentous 3-2 upset over Big Ten champion and top-seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The Flames will be making their first appearance in the Final Four in school history, in an NCAA Tournament run that seems will not be forgotten.

Liberty finished with an impeccable 7-0 conference record and wrapped it up with a Big East Tournament championship in a 1-0 victory over UConn.

In the teams’ only meeting on Oct. 8, 2017, Maryland defeated Liberty 4-1 at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park.

This matchup is shaping up to be a great contest between two teams, who overcame adversity to get to this stage.

Now let’s look at the Liberty Flames.

No. 9 Liberty Flames 19-2 (7-0 Big East)

2021 spring record: 13-3 (10-2 Big East)

The Liberty Flames are led by head coach Nikki Parsley-Blocker, who’s in her fifth season as the leader of the field hockey program. Parsley-Blocker has earned a 63-30 record in her brief tenure on campus. The successful coach has set the tone for excellence from the very beginning, leading the Flames to an 8-11 record and a No. 23 national ranking by end of the season.

The fall 2020 season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, so she led her club to a great season in the spring of 2021. Parsley-Blocker led the Flames to a 13-3 record and a No. 8 ranking in the NFHCA polls. She also guided Liberty to a 10-2 record in Big East play, showcasing their dominance and capabilities.

This season, the Flames dropped just two games in back-to-back matchups. The first loss came against then-No. 5 Northwestern and the second four days later against then-No. 6 Louisville. Liberty has not lost a game since Sept. 12.

Players to know

Jill Bolton, senior forward, No. 25 — Bolton led the Big East in goals this season, recording an incredible 17 goals in her senior campaign. The electric scorer is very unselfish, evidenced by her six assists this season. The first-team All-Big East member led the conference by a mile with her 93 shots on the season. Bolton is one of several key members of Liberty’s attack that have been bringing the pressure all season. Bolton has ice in her veins when the game is on the line, with three game-winning goals in the 2021 season. She recorded a goal in the quarterfinal 3-2 upset victory over Rutgers.

Daniella Rhodes, junior forward, No. 10 — The Big East Offensive Player of the Year has enjoyed a great season with 16 goals recorded this season. Rhodes has been outstanding this season at attacking opponents’ goalies with speed and athleticism. The junior forward ranks sixth in the country for goals per game, with one goal scored per game. The South African native ranks second in the Big East for shots generated, with 63 shots on the season. The first-team All-Big East member creates scoring opportunities for her teammates, registering seven dimes this season. Rhodes has also chipped in 43 shots on goal this season to add to an already explosive offensive attack.

Bethany Dykema, junior defender, No. 5 — Dykema is a versatile playmaker for the Flames, with her eight goals and nine assists this season. The Newport News, Virginia native has contributed 26 shots to go along with 17 shots on goals this season for Liberty. The first-team All-Big Ten member is one of several key contributors to an offensive attack that has been difficult to prepare for. Dykema recorded an assist in Liberty’s recent victory over Rutgers that sent her team to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Final Four.

Strength

Scoring. The Liberty Flames possess the top-ranked scoring offense in the country, with 3.84 goals scored per game. The reigning Big East champions have six players who have at least scored six goals this season, showcasing their dynamic offense and versatility at generating scoring opportunities. Liberty is determined to cause havoc for opponents goalies, with an average of 18.1 shots per game.

Weakness

Shots percentage. You would think that a team loaded with the offensive personnel would have any holes in their attack, but Liberty struggles to convert its goals on the exorbitant number of shots they attempt. Liberty is currently 77-380 on goals to shot attempts, which equals 20.3%.

Three things to watch

1. Which offense can take over this game? Liberty has the top-ranked offense and will look to put massive pressure on Maryland’s star goalie Noelle Frost, to find success at the cage. The Flames will look to match Maryland’s speed and athleticism, by generating offense early and often in this explosive matchup in Ann Arbor. Maryland is a well-oiled machine with several athletes that are capable of contributing to the scoring punch, in any given contest.

2. Can Maryland’s defense play a complete game? The Terps have been clicking on all cylinders defensively in the NCAA Tournament and have not allowed a single goal in the first half of their first two victories over Virginia and Syracuse. Maryland has been locked in on stifling their opponents, with graduate midfielder Brooke DeBerdine and the rest of the crew trapping opponents on the perimeter and not allowing any penetration in the heart of the defense.

3. Will Maryland continue dancing into the National Championship? Maryland is playing complimentary hockey and at the right time. The Terps will look to extend their stay in Ann Arbor till Sunday for a national championship date with either Harvard or Northwestern. The winner of this contest will play the winner of the Harvard/Northwestern matchup in the National Championship on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Terps are looking to advance to their 13th NCAA title game under Meharg.