This has not been an easy stretch of games for Maryland field hockey. The team just finished a portion of the schedule that included five games, with three ranked opponents, over a ten-day span. Signs of fatigue began on Friday during the Terps’ victory over No. 19 Iowa.
“I think we played a little sluggish,” said coach Missy Meharg after the game. “When we didn’t get goals, we lost our flavor, but we were able to pick that up.”
Meharg referred to moments in the game where players seemed to ease up on their offensive intensity after stretches of shots yielded nothing. Mix that frustration with already tired legs and you get a cocktail of sloppy play, particularly in the midfield where many leading passes that would normally get scooped up by running forwards would end up out of bounds.
But Iowa’s playing style allowed some of these mistakes to go relatively unpunished. The Hawkeyes did everything they could to slow the speed of the game down to their liking. They would prevent quick restarts, hold possession in the midfield whenever possible, and stack the penalty circle.
Slower play means slower movements, so while the minds of Maryland players might have been working at normal game speed, their bodies were not. As a result, the Terps were able to take the energy saved up into the second half and push their way to a 2-1 victory.
The same strategy would not work against No. 14 Northwestern, who came out firing against Maryland on Sunday. After scoring a then-elusive first-half goal to equalize the score, and briefly taking the lead early in the second half, the Wildcats fought back to a 3-2 lead.
With five minutes to go in the second half, Meharg decided to pull Sarah Holliday from goal in to add another forward to the squad. The Terps were able to fire off several shots towards Northwestern’s goal, but were unable to get a result. Sophomore midfielder Madison Maguire was not noticeably frustrated about the loss, however.
“I don’t think it was anything that wasn’t working,” she said on Sunday. “We played our hearts out, we got the ball into our scoring half, and had eight or nine shots on goal in the last bit of the game. So it just comes down to scoring goals now.”
That sort of acknowledgement does come from a place of dealing with losses maturely, but it also shows that she knows the team can do better and that something small might have off for the team, like mental exhaustion. Senior midfielder Brooke Adler didn’t dwell on the game either.
“I think we just got to keep our heads up,” she said on Sunday. “It was a hard fought game and we played a bunch of games in a row. We just gotta take the good out of it and take it into the next game.”
After a hectic 10-day stretch, the Terps will finally have a full four days to recover. Their reward on Friday? A top-15 matchup against No. 6 Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Rankings and honors
The Terps’ rocky week had a was reflected in their ranking. They dropped to No. 15 in the latest NFHCA Coaches Poll, making it a nine-spot drop since they were ranked No. 6 in the preseason. The team now has the fifth-best winning percentage in the Big Ten. The good news is that voters believe Maryland has a strong enough program to give a four-spot jump to Northwestern, moving the Wildcats to No. 10.
The Terps will travel to Ann Arbor on Friday for the first of their two games in the state of Michigan. They will face off against the Wolverines at Phyllis Ocker Field at 6 p.m. ET.
No. 6 Michigan (7-2)
2016 Record: 12-8, 5-3 B1G
Maryland will be playing the best team in the Big Ten on Friday, a phrase that has gained significant merit over the past few seasons. But the Wolverines’ success in conference play, which includes beating No. 3 Penn State, is only representative of a third of their games. The remaining four wins have been against No. 1 North Carolina, No. 15 Wake Forest, and No. 25 Liberty.
Each win has featured a lot of scoring. Michigan is averaging almost 3.5 goals a game, while their opponents manage exactly 1. Sophomore midfielder Meg Dowthwaite leads the Wolverines with 21 points (8 goals, 5 assists).
The Terps’ best chances in Ann Arbor come from two places: their defense and the ref’s pocket. In the Wolverines’ two losses, they ran into hardened defenses that were able to turn loose balls into odd-man counter attacks. If unranked William & Mary can pull it off, Maryland can too. Michigan also has a propensity to get cards. So far this season, the Wolverines earned 12 green cards and three yellows. No one likes it when the ref becomes a part of the game, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt the Terps if it happened.