No. 2 Maryland field hockey hosts No. 13 Liberty in the first round of the NCAA Field Hockey Tournament Friday at noon. These two teams met in the Final Four last season in a double-overtime thriller that was won by the latter, 3-2.
The Terps’ Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park, Maryland, will host this highly anticipated matchup. The game is scheduled to begin at noon on Big Ten Plus.
Maryland’s (17-3) successful season earned it a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship. In the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland defeated Ohio State, 5-2. The Terps then fell to reigning national champion Northwestern, 2-1, in the semifinals.
Liberty (12-7) clinched its second consecutive Big East Tournament title following a 3-1 victory over Old Dominion. The Flames were playing cohesively and seem to be clicking at the right time. With a 5-3 record on the road, Liberty has demonstrated its ability to get it done away from home.
Both teams have recorded a victory in their two-game series, with Maryland defeating Liberty, 4-1, on Oct. 8, 2017. Liberty’s triumph came last season in advance of its first national championship game appearance.
This game figures to be one of the best of the weekend, and these programs should compete at a high level in hopes of advancing to the next round.
Now, let’s look at the Liberty Flames.
Liberty Flames (12-7, 6-1)
2021 record: 20-3 (7-0 Big East)
Head coach Nikki Parsley-Blocker is in her sixth season at the helm for the Flames. She has been a symbol of success with an impressive 76-38 record during her tenure at the Big East school.
The former assistant coach has been instrumental in Liberty’s 24 All-Big East selections, two Big East Offensive Players of the Year, one Big East Championship MVP and many more accolades.
Last season was one to remember for Liberty, winning its first Big East title in program history. It recorded a school record in wins with a 20-3 mark that included a flawless 7-0 conference slate.
The season saw continued success as the Flames posted a 10-3 record over opponents ranked in the NFHCA top 25.
Under Parsley-Blocker, Liberty’s offense figures to be another tall task to contend with. Last season, Liberty had the best offense in the country with 3.5 goals per contest. Liberty is fourth in the country this season with 3.4 goals per game.
Liberty has been on the doorstep of a national championship and will look to make revisions to finish the job this season.
Players to know
Daniella Rhodes, senior forward, No. 10 — Rhodes leads Liberty in goals with 11 in her senior campaign. In Liberty’s 3-1 Big East Tournament-clinching triumph over Old Dominion, Rhodes recorded a goal. Her 60 shots lead the team and are a glimpse of why she is considered one of the best players in the Big East. The 2021 Big East Offensive Player of the Year added 10 assists to Liberty’s offensive attack this season, displaying the ability to find others for scoring opportunities.
Lizzie Hamlett, senior midfielder, No. 1 — The Virginia native is second on the team with 10 goals this season. The All-Big East first team member’s impressive season featured 33 shots and seven assists. Hamlett is a great athlete who must be accounted for with a unique ability to wreak havoc on opponents’ cages. In Liberty’s 5-0 victory over Quinnipiac on Sept. 30, she filled the stat sheet with two goals, four shots and three shots on goal.
Bethany Dykema, senior defender, No. 5 — The All-Big East first team honoree leads the team with 11 assists on the season while also registering eight goals this season. She is currently fifth on the team with 24 shots, showing her contributions to Liberty’s success this season. Dykema’s athleticism extends to the defensive end as her intelligence allows her to make consistent plays. Many believe Dykema is the X-factor with her ability to consistently affect the games.
Goals. Liberty’s offense is loaded with talent and depth to provide an array of problems for opponents. The back-to-back Big East Tournament champion ranks fourth in the country with 3.4 goals per contest. Six players on its roster have recorded at least six goals this season, led by the duo of Rhodes (11) and Hamlet (10). This team is a relentless group that looks to score early and often with sharp angles to the cage.
Shooting percentage. This team has been playing at a championship level, but there are a few weaknesses to its attack. Liberty has converted on 20.4% of its shots, which is a result of its depth on offense. With a slight improvement in this area, the Flames could be a team with back-to-back appearances in the national championship.
Three things to watch
1. Can the Terps avenge their Final Four loss from last season? Maryland and Liberty met in last season’s Final Four in one of the most entertaining games of the season. Liberty defeated the Terps, 3-2, after a game-winning goal in double overtime by Charlotte Vaanhold. Unlike last year’s roster, the Terps have only lost three games this season. Maryland’s depth is its greatest strength and figures to play a role in its success in the NCAA Tournament. The Terps have four players who’ve scored at least 10 goals this season, led by star sophomore Hope Rose with 14. Seventeen players return from last year’s team and will look to start the NCAA Tournament by avenging last season’s heartbreaking loss.
2. Will Maryland remain perfect in College Park? The Terps seem to enjoy playing on their home turf, as they are a perfect 10-0 at “The Plex” with a 42-10 scoring margin over visiting teams. Four of their home victories have come against opponents ranked in the NFHCA top 25. Maryland was selected as the No. 3 overall seed, which means they will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Maryland’s home grounds have caused horrors for opposing teams, and Maryland will look for that to remain true on Friday.
3. Can Maryland prevent a letdown? In their past few games, the Terps have gotten out to slow starts, with one proving to be costly in their Big Ten Tournament defeat. In Maryland’s 2-1 loss to Northwestern, the Terps struggled with only four first-half shots and one penalty corner. Maryland didn’t register its lone goal until a strong shot by Rose. If Maryland can find a way to start fast, it will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.