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Maryland field hockey weekend preview: Michigan State & Northwestern

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The Terps open the spring 2021 season with two Big Ten showdowns in Virginia Beach.

Maryland v American Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

After more than 15 long months, Maryland field hockey will finally take the field again this Friday.

The Terps return to the field as two-time reigning Big Ten Champions, but will be looking to improve on their NCAA Tournament quarterfinal showing from 2019. Maryland lost five regular starters from last season’s team, but has more than enough returning experience and talented newcomers to still be contenders at a national level.

“We just couldn’t be more excited,” head coach Missy Meharg said. “We have worked so hard to be in this place, to be healthy, to be fit...we’re just really excited to get going with Michigan State tomorrow.”

The team will open its season Friday against a Michigan State team that was winless in the Big Ten in 2019. Maryland will play again Sunday against Northwestern, which finished third in the Big Ten last season with a 5-3 conference record. Both games will be neutral-site contests in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with two more games in the same location coming next weekend.

Let’s take a deeper look at the two teams the Terps will face off against this weekend.

Michigan State Spartans

2019 record: 7-11 (0-8 Big Ten)

Head coach Helen Knull is entering her 10th season as head coach of the Michigan State field hockey program. Knull, who spent five years on the staff as an assistant before becoming the head coach, has a career 74-105 record. Her best season came in 2013, when the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament and made an Elite Eight appearance.

Players to know

Jade Arundell, junior goaltender, No. 1. As just a sophomore, Arundell was voted Team MVP for her performance in net. She led the Big Ten with 142 saves and 7.9 saves per game. The Ireland native will pose a massive defensive challenge for the Terps. In addition, Arundell’s four shutouts ranked second in the entire conference.

Lia Sinisi, senior forward, No. 6. Sinisi was the Spartans’ leading goal scorer during the 2019 season. Her 14 points also ranked second on the team. Sinisi was awarded Offensive Player of the Year at Michigan State’s team banquet after last season. The forward will pose the biggest offensive threat for the Terps.

Nienke Bloemsaat, sophomore defender, No. 9. Hailing from The Netherlands, Bloemsaat had a sensational freshman campaign in 2019. Her 13 points and five goals both ranked third on the Spartans in 2019. Even more impressive was her seven defensive saves, which were most in the Big Ten and third across the whole nation.

Strength

Returning experience. The Spartans return seven players who were consistent starters on last season’s team. In addition to the three players mentioned above, Michigan State brings back a 2019 co-captain in midfielder Cara Bonshak and its Team Rookie of the Year in defender Celina Riccardo. It will be interesting to see how improved these returnees are from last season.

Weakness

Winning pedigree. Despite the talent it returns, Michigan State has not won a single Big Ten game since Oct. 15, 2017, at Indiana. Even with that, the Spartans went 2-6 in conference play that season. There are not players on Michigan State’s roster that have had experience winning at this level, although they have to start somewhere.

Northwestern Wildcats

2019 record: 14-8 (5-3 Big Ten)

Head coach Tracey Fuchs is in her 12th season with the program. In her first 11 years, Fuchs had a very impressive 146-83 record, leading the Wildcats to two Big Ten titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances. She is credited for turning the program back into a national power, posting a winning record in 10 of 11 seasons after the program had gone 13 years without one prior to her arrival.

Players to know

Bente Baekers, redshirt sophomore forward, No. 3. The Wildcats return one of the best players in the entire nation. Baekers led the Big Ten in goals (28), points (59) and shots (99); her 28 goals are the most ever by a Northwestern freshman. The Netherlands product was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned First Team All-Big Ten honors in 2019.

Kayla Blas, junior defender/midfielder, No. 11. Blas started in every game and earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors for the Wildcats last season. Her nine assists ranked second on the team. A former member of the United States U-19 National Team, Blas returns as a veteran talent for the Wildcats.

Florien Marcussen, senior goaltender, No. 25. Marcussen started every game for Northwestern last season and carries in great success from her junior campaign into this season. Marcussen’s five shutouts ranked first in the entire Big Ten. She was also third in the conference in total saves. Scoring on Marcussen, who had nine saves against Maryland last year, will be a tough task for the Terps.

Strength

Sharing the ball. Northwestern ranked ninth nationally in assists per game with 2.36 last season. Part of being great is being unselfish, and the Wildcats had the look of both a great team and an unselfish one in 2019. With a team that brings back all but three starters, expect the chemistry and this trend to stay the same.

Weakness

Pulling out close games. With Northwestern being such a well-rounded team, it is hard to find a particular weakness. However, the Wildcats did struggle in games that came down to the wire last season — in games decided by one goal, Northwestern went 3-7. While all but one of the Wildcats’ losses fell into that category, these games could be the difference between an upper-half Big Ten team and a national contender.

Three things to watch

1. Which freshmen will step up for the Terps? Head coach Missy Meharg brings in a star-studded, four-player recruiting class to replace the likes of Madison Maguire, Bodil Keus, Linda Cobano, Kelee Lepage and more.

“All four of them are very strong, and I include [backup goaltender] Christina Castaldo,” Meharg said. “All five of them are innovative. They have four years of eligibility. They’re very strong.”

Forward/midfielder Anna Castaldo is probably the headliner of the newcomers for the Terrapins. Castaldo, along with Anoushka Chiswell and Rayne Wright, could see playing time right away. It will be interesting to see how Meharg utilizes each player and how much playing time they each see right away.

2. How will Kyler Greenwalt look coming off a torn ACL? While this question will probably not be answered this weekend, a big key for the Terps this season will be how the midfielder looks after returning from injury.

“I feel good,” Greenwalt said. “It’s been two years. I’ve definitely been working really hard to try and get back on the field and trying to play like how I used to play. I think I’m really getting there. I’m really excited. ... I still have a few restrictions, but I feel great.”

Meharg added that Greenwalt will probably just see “sustained minutes,” noting stretches for five or six minutes at a time. Unlimited substitutions will certainly help gauge how much Greenwalt can play this weekend.

3. How will the sophomores perform? After outstanding freshman seasons, midfielders Emma DeBerdine and Nathalie Fiechter will look to take the next step as sophomores, starting with this weekend’s games.

“They’re a very strong group,” Meharg said of the nine-player sophomore class. “Emma is just an outstanding midfielder and she can run from the center of the field. Nathalie in the backfield is playing more of a central role for us now, so she’s doing super well.”

Belle Bressler, who has moved towards more of a defensive role for the Terps, has excelled in practice as well, Meharg said. Meharg also noted that University of New Hampshire transfer Maura Verleg has been surprisingly strong at the center back spot.

DeBerdine was just named to the Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch List. She and Fiechter, along with the rest of the sophomore class, will be major keys to the Terrapins’ success this season.