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No. 4 Maryland field hockey vs. Drexel preview

Maryland opens its season at home on Friday against the Dragons.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Head coach Missy Meharg and Maryland field hockey open their season with a home matchup against the Drexel Dragons on Friday at 6 p.m. The game will be streamed on BTN+.

Maryland (0-0) opens the season following an exasperating 4-3 loss in last season’s Final Four to Liberty. Meharg and the Terps have an embarrassment of riches with talented freshmen and upperclassmen capable of scoring.

The Terps will look to open the season with a home win after earning a 9-3 record at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex last season. Construction recently began on the $11 million upgrade to the Terps’ home field, which is expected to be completed by 2023.

The Drexel Dragons (0-0) make their way to College Park after an abysmal 2021 season that ended with a 6-14 (2-4 CAA) record.

Maryland has an unblemished 8-0 record all-time versus Drexel, with the Terps winning the last meeting on Sept. 13, 2014, by a score of 3-0.

The Terps will look to extend their 19-game winning streak in season-openers, while Drexel will look to pull off the early season upset on the road.

Now, let’s look at the Dragons.

Drexel Dragons (0-0)

2021 record: 6-14 (2-4 CAA)

Drexel head coach Denise Zelenak returns for her 28th season at the helm of the program. Zelenak has established the Dragons as a formidable team since her hiring in 1995. Prior to her arrival, Drexel had registered one season above .500.

Under Zelenak’s leadership, Drexel has made nine CAA Championship appearances, two NCAA Tournament appearances, and won a conference title in 2012. The two-time NFHCA Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year has amassed a 261-262 record during her tenure.

She has shown the ability to rejuvenate a struggling program and this season’s roster could speed up the process with a road victory at Maryland.

Players to know

Eline Di Leva, junior forward No. 9 — Di Leva returns for her junior campaign after tying for the team lead in goals last season with seven. The All-CAA first team member used her speed and athleticism to register 30 shots last season. She has started in 31 consecutive games while getting her teammates involved, with six assists last year. The junior will be relied upon heavily to improve Drexel’s scoring, as last season it averaged 2.1 goals per game. With a shot-on-goal percentage of 66.7%, Di Leva applied pressure on the opponents cage the entirety of last season.

Puk Thewessen, graduate back, No. 26 — Drexel will bring back Thewessen for her final season after recording five goals and five assists in 2021. The five-foot-six Netherlands native has an ability to find teammates for scoring opportunities and is a key piece of the Dragons’ attack. Thewessen was 10th in the CAA with 40 shots last season. She also recorded a shot-on-goal average of 1.32 per game, which ranked ninth in the conference.

Isabel Jacobs, senior midfielder, No. 6 — Jacobs is the orchestrator of Drexel’s offense and has shown she can find teammates for goals at the cage. She led the team with nine assists last season, landing a seventh-placed ranking in the conference. The senior midfielder appeared in every game while leading Drexel with a 75% shot-on-goal percentage. Drexel relies on the preseason All-CAA honoree’s ability to penetrate the defense and find her teammates sprinting in transition.

Strength

Saves. Drexel does an excellent job defending their cage, ranking second in the CAA with 136 saves in 2021. With senior goalkeeper Megan Hadfield back in the fold, Drexel has a proven lynchpin to defend its net. Hadfield started every game last season and was second in the conference with 122 saves. Teams were not scoring at a premium versus the Dragons, as they only relinquished 3.5 goals per game. Drexel’s defense is aggressive and defends every blade of turf to keep points off the scoreboard.

Weakness

Scoring. While Drexel does an outstanding job of preventing goals, the Dragons struggle to generate goals for themselves. They averaged a mere 2.5 goals per game, scoring one goal or less in eight games last season. Their inability to generate consistent offense was their achilles heel last season and fixing this area bodes well for their chances moving forward.

Three things to watch

  1. How does Maryland star Hope Rose build on a promising freshman season? Rose was the sixth-ranked freshman in the class of 2021 and she exceeded expectations in her first season for the Terps. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year made a statement by scoring 10 goals in her first year under head coach Missy Meharg. She is an aggressive forward that uses speed and strength to fire shots from different areas of the field. In her first season at Maryland, Rose quickly established herself as one of the best players in the Big Ten.
  2. Can the Terps’ goalkeeping duo protect the cage? The Terps will not have the defensive services of goalkeeper Noelle Frost, who graduated last May. Maryland goalies Paige Kieft and Christina Calandra are splitting time to start the season, giving Meharg two stalwarts on defense capable of defending the net at a high level. Kieft, a sophomore from Newton Square, Pennsylvania, has lateral agility and can swat shots away from the net. Calandra, a senior from Manchester, Massachusetts, has been outstanding with her vocal direction from the backfield. Both goalies will be instrumental in Maryland’s defense, as the Terps are constantly looking to force a turnover to ignite their offense.
  3. Will Drexel’s Taylor Mason secure an upset victory in her homecoming? Drexel graduate midfielder Taylor Mason will return to College Park after playing four seasons with the Terps from 2018-2021. During her career at Maryland, Mason recorded eight goals, four assists, and 53 shots. The five-foot-10 midfielder will attempt to lead her new team to a road victory over her former squad.