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‘Defining’ loss against Michigan has propelled Maryland field hockey to recent victories

A heartbreaker in Ann Arbor was not enough to stop the Terps from showing just how good they could be.

maryland field hockey Gabe Fernandez / Testudo Times

Maryland field hockey head coach Missy Meharg called the gut-wrenching overtime loss against No. 6 Michigan a “defining contest” for the young squad because it gave every player on the team, from the starters, to the reserves, an opportunity to grow and the team never backed down.

For the uninitiated, these postgame comments may just seem like frivolous words from a coach who just wants to move away from the media personnel waving a recorder in her face after a tough loss. But when it’s Meharg saying them, you can almost be certain there’s a lot of truth in them. Over 30 seasons of coaching experience is no small feat.

Maryland showed the growth that Meharg spoke of in their second trip up to Michigan when they thoroughly defeated Michigan State in a 4-1 away victory. The Terps even took that momentum back home with them on Sunday against Liberty for another victory with the same scoreline.

It almost seemed like they didn’t want to be put in the position to lose like they did in Ann Arbor again. Rather than give their opponents any leverage, Maryland came out firing at the start of both games and added some points to the scoreboard while keeping their opponents backed up against the proverbial wall, something that has not gone unnoticed by Meharg.

“We’ve started two games in a row really dominating, with a mindset to win the games and a mindset to score goals,” she said after Sunday’s win. “Couldn’t be more proud of the win for back-to-back games like that. It’s an area we’ve worked super hard on. It’s coming to the forefront.”

Rankings and Honors

Apparently, not a single Terp stood out enough to anyone in the Big Ten during the team’s back-to-back wins this past weekend to earn weekly honors from the conference. However, the victories were enough to propel the team up one position in the NFHCA Coaches Poll to No. 16. A couple more wins against ranked opponents this weekend, and the upwards trend could only get better.

Up Next

Maryland continues its homestand against two top-25 opponents this upcoming weekend: No. 25 Ohio State on Friday, and No. 6 Penn State on Sunday.

No. 25 Ohio State (7-6)

2016 Record: 6-11, 1-7 B1G

Head coach Jarred Martin has turned the recently-ranked Buckeyes into one of the better squads the program has seen in years. It helps that so many players are having breakout seasons at the same time. Senior defender Maartje Bongers already has a career-high in points (14) and goals (4) in just her second year at Ohio State. Senior goalkeeper Liz Tamburro is hitting a career-high in save percentage with .759, which shows the strength of the Buckeyes’ last line of defense. This could be the best team from Columbus that Maryland has ever seen. Thankfully, there are a few numbers on the Terps’ side.

Yes, Ohio State has two standout wins against ranked opponents—No. 9 Louisville and No. 11 Stanford—but they are 0-4 this season in conference play. The Buckeyes have also played the most overtime games in the nation with six, a stat that could very well factor into this game given the conditioning of Maryland’s attack. Finally, Ohio State has never beaten Maryland in a series began back when Jimmy Carter was president.

No. 5 Penn State (12-2)

2016 Record: 17-3, 6-2 B1G

Despite the difference in records and rankings this season, the Terps and Nittany Lions do have one thing in common: both have gone on a winning streak since losing to Michigan. But even in that category, Penn State holds the edge over Maryland as the Nittany Lions have won four consecutive games, while the Terps have just two.

There are a lot of things about this team that should be a cause for concern for any Maryland fan. The Nittany Lions have allowed fewer goals than the Terps, despite playing one less game, their backline consists of mostly upperclassmen, and they’ve had almost 30 more penalty corner attempts than Maryland’s had. To make matters worse, their best player is a transfer from College Park, Moira Putsch, who comes into Sunday’s matchup with a team-leading 37 points off of 14 goals and 11 assists. Putsch won Big Ten Freshman of the Year at Maryland before transferring to Penn State.

Any chance Maryland has to win will have to come from the same playbook used in its overtime loss to Michigan. Sticking to their high-pressure offense and forcing Penn State to use its energy defending will give the Terps opportunities to strike, while giving Sarah Holliday and her backline the breathers they’ll definitely need against a team that also has a knack for scoring quickly and often.