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Maryland field hockey eliminated by Penn State in Big Ten semifinals

The Terps put up a fight, but now shift focus towards the national tournament.

maryland field hockey Gabe Fernandez

Maryland field hockey’s conference tournament ride ended on Friday after falling to No. 5 Penn State 3-2.

The Terps kept their offense pushing and were able to tie the game up after falling behind twice, but could not respond after a late Nittany Lions goal off of a penalty corner.

While Maryland came out in their usual high-octane pace, Penn State changed up their strategy with a more patient approach, sitting back early on. The Terps pushed forward and were able to get seven shots, and two penalty corners in about seven minutes of action.

But the strategy of the Nittany Lions paid off first. A quick counter attack positioned Maryland-transfer Moira Putsch right in front of Sarah Holliday and allowed her to swing her shot right past the Terps goalkeeper for the give the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead.

Despite conceding, Maryland was able to pick up right where it left off with its game plan. The Terps were able to build up an attack that packed the Nittany Lions penalty circle, which led to a Lein Holsboer shot that Sabrina Rhodes was able to poach in to knot up the score at one.

Penn State reclaimed the lead less than five minutes later off of another counter attack that allowed Nittany Lion midfielder Cassie Klein to score and give the team a 2-1 lead.

After falling behind the Terps 7-2 in total shots early on, the Nittany Lions were able to slowly pick up their aggression throughout the first half. Their forwards began to press farther-and-farther up, forcing Maryland to pass with a little more urgency than the team might have wanted. At the end of the first half, the 2-1 lead remained with Penn State increasing its shot count to 8.

The second half began the same way the first half did. Penn State stood back and absorbed Maryland pressure as the Terps tried time after time to get into their opponent’s penalty circle. The Nittany Lions defense stood tall early and stopped any Terps attempt at scoring.

Even when the pass would make its way into the penalty circle, Penn State defenders often threw themselves in the path of Maryland attackers to prevent smooth movement. If that didn’t work, Jenny Rizzo seemed to grow twice her size, Mario-style, and blocked out anything that got near her.

The Terps, however, stayed resilient. Maryland found its way to back-to-back penalty corner situations for the first time since the first half and took advantage of its situation. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Bodil Keus fired a shot that seemed to be going wide until Rizzo deflected it into the net off of her stick to tie the game at 2-2.

The goal seemed to give a much-needed energy boost to Maryland. In the minutes following the score, the Terps put their opponents on their heels. It forced the Nittany Lions to try and respond with aggressive pushes of their own. Unfortunately, the shift in strategy led to sloppy passes and frustration tackles from Penn State, which forced head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss to call a timeout.

The timeout proved useful for the Nittany Lions. With the game restarting in Penn State’s half, the team was able to patiently push its way into Maryland’s penalty circle and earn opportunities to take back the lead. Their attempts proved successful when Katie Dembrowski was able to score off of a penalty corner to give the Nittany Lions a 3-2 lead.

In an attempt to build some momentum, Maryland coach Missy Meharg called a timeout and pulled Sarah Holliday to get the extra attacker for the Terps. The push would prove to not be enough as the last shot attempt went wide and Penn State earned the victory.

Though they were eliminated from the conference tournament, Maryland will have another opportunity to gain some tournament hardware in the national tournament which starts on Saturday Nov. 11.

Three things to know

  1. Counter attacking defense just was not there. On Sunday, Brooke DeBerdine mentioned that the Terps’ ability to defend counter attacks wasn’t all there against Michigan State, and that issue was magnified against Penn State. The Nittany Lions forwards were able to move in groups that often outnumbered Maryland defenders in the backfield that led to a few close calls, and ultimately, two goals.
  2. The Terps are capable of scaring good teams. Who could have guessed a team on a seven-game winning streak would strike some fear in opponents? Signals of Maryland’s success don’t only show in the win column, they show on the field, as well, with how teams are able to respond to game plans. The desperation that Maryland was able to instill in a great Penn State squad is something they can still take to the national tournament, especially against unfamiliar opponents.
  3. The shots were there, but the goals weren’t...again. It’s unfortunate that Maryland still requires many shot attempts to get on the scoreboard, a problem that has plagued them all season. Nothing can be taken away from Rizzo’s performance, but a lot of the saves did come from slower shots that were made with less-than-ideal judgment. It’s hard to say what can be done to start taking smarter shots this late in the season, but at least the Terps have a week to figure some of it out.