It’s a quiet weekend for Maryland sports. Football is on a bye, the investigation into the team’s culture is still in its latter stages and only one fall team—volleyball—plays at home in the next three days.
The field hockey team, though, is preparing for its most anticipated matchup all season. Maryland brings an 11-0 record into this weekend, the best mark in the country. If you haven’t been paying attention, this would be the perfect time to start.
The Terps have been on fire since the second half of last season.
Maryland’s 2017 campaign started slow but finished fast. One of Missy Meharg’s youngest teams started 6-5 and was close to slipping out of the top 25, let alone the NCAA Tournament field of 16. But then the Terps reeled off six straight wins to close the regular season and reached the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. They weren’t seeded in the NCAAs, but knocked off Wake Forest and No. 2-seed Duke to reach the Final Four. Maryland took out No. 3-seed Michigan to reach the national title game, where it fell to No. 1-seed UConn, who capped an undefeated season with a title.
Nine of the 11 starters from that squad returned this season, and the Terps brought in plenty of new firepower. Meharg brought in German defender Nike Lorenz, who announced herself with three goals in her NCAA debut and has eight goals in eight games. Redshirt freshman Mayv Clune, the No. 1 recruit in the 2017 class, is healthy and producing.
Then there’s senior Linnea Gonzales, who’s putting together her best season yet. After scoring exactly 10 goals in each of her first three years, Gonzales has reached double digits in just 11 contests. With everyone healthy, the Terps’ core stacks up with any in the country.
They’ve gone perfect against an insanely difficult schedule.
After opening the season with three easy wins on the West Coast—the combined score of these games was 14-1—Maryland has faced seven ranked teams in its last eight outings, including three top-10 opponents. It hasn’t mattered, as the Terps have kept rattling off wins and outscored these foes 28-15.
Five of the wins have come by one goal, but by far the closest call was at then-No. 5 Princeton last week. Maryland fell behind 4-1 before charging back. The Terps scored in the 50th and 57th minutes, then tied the game with 15 seconds left in regulation after pulling the goalie. They won it in overtime despite not recording a save all night.
Even with the undefeated record, Maryland is still just No. 3 in the polls. Two other unbeatens stand in the way, as UConn is 9-0 and No. 1 North Carolina is 8-0. The Terps have stacked one quality win on top of another, but only been able to climb so far as a result.
Now they have a chance to change that.
The biggest test of the regular season awaits.
Maryland’s rematch with UConn takes place Sunday at noon in Storrs. The Terps won the last regular-season meeting in 2016 in College Park, but the memories from last year’s title game are much fresher. For the players, nearly all of whom remember the gutting feeling of losing a 2-1 battle, this matchup brings with it just a little extra excitement*.
“I think we’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve used that feeling as fire almost for where we want to be this season and how we want to compete,” Gonzales said this week.
The Huskies are a different team, but they’re still formidable. Megastar Charlotte Veitner, whose two goals in the title game lifted UConn to the championship and brought her year-end total to a nation’s-best 34, is out of eligibility, as are two of the Huskies’ other double-digit scorers from last year. All-Big East forward Amanda Collins remains, and UConn’s new top scorer is Cecile Pieper, a fifth-year defender who was teammates with Lorenz on Germany’s 2016 Olympic squad (which won bronze).
No trophies will be handed out Sunday. But Maryland knows that taking down the defending champs, who’ve won 33 straight games across two seasons, would be its most impressive win of the year.
“I think we already kind of made a statement with what we’re doing throughout the season,” senior forward Sabrina Rhodes said, “but we’re still growing and everyone else is still growing, so I think that will definitely increase our confidence in ourselves.”
*It’s still only on HuskyVision, which costs money to watch. Yes, I know that’s annoying. Maryland also played Princeton on ESPN+ and most of its games are on BTN Plus. But hey, Sunday’s game might be worth paying for.