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Maryland field hockey’s season has already come full circle

The Terps’ next challenge in the NCAA tournament will be to face the catalyst that brought them there.

maryland field hockey Gabe Fernandez / Testudo Times

The last time Maryland field hockey faced Michigan, the Terps were beaten in double-overtime when junior Emma Way slid the game-winning goal past Sarah Holliday with one second left in the game. The season had a grim outlook for Maryland. After starting the season ranked No. 6 in the nation, the team had dropped to 6-5 and did not appear to have much life.

“When we lost that game with one second left on the clock out at Michigan, no one on our staff had ever been through it as a player or a coach,” Meharg said on Tuesday. “It was what changed our entire season in terms of what went on for the kids and how we learned from it.”

They absolutely learned from it. The Terps went on to win the remaining six games of the regular season, including two against top-10 opponents. They began to incorporate full-field presses into their game plans and made it a mission to outshoot their opponents whenever possible. Most importantly, thanks to tougher training regiments by assistant coaches Katie and Marvin Bam, they never got tired doing so.

But the road to the Final Four was not without its speed bumps. After a decisive victory against Michigan State in its first game of the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland fell to Penn State in the semifinals. As a result, they went unseeded in the initial draws of the NCAA Tournament, setting up a number of potentially tough matchups.

Somehow, this didn’t seem to really bother Meharg. In fact, it gave her an opportunity to answer a few curiosities that occasionally entered her mind.

“I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be really cool, to always be the underdog and have to build something up in order to get [to the Final Four],’” she said.

Meharg might not have known it at the beginning of the season, but that’s exactly the opportunity her team has been given. With five freshman in the starting lineup, and a predominantly youthful squad, the midseason change to practices and training were easily implemented since the underclassmen had yet to develop a routine.

Now, the underdog Terps are in the Final Four for the first time since 2013. After rolling through Wake Forest and upsetting the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils, their next task is to face the team that kicked off the success that led them to these heights in the first place. But like any underdog team, Maryland is energized and ready to play whoever’s next.

“Sure, there’s a lot of energy with Michigan, and our biggest task next weekend is to figure out and get around their keeper by taking our shots and getting our penalty corners throughout the game,” Meharg said. “But we’ll play whoever’s there.”

Maryland and Michigan will face off at 4:45 p.m. ET on Friday in Louisville. The winner will face either UConn or North Carolina.