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No. 11 Maryland field hockey weekend preview: No. 5 Michigan

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The Terps return to College Park for back-to-back matches against the Big Ten’s best.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After splitting with No. 2 Iowa on the road, Maryland field hockey plays its first set of home games in three weeks against No. 5 Michigan.

The Terps have a 6-4 record this season and had their four-game winning streak snapped in last Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Hawkeyes.

“We’re super excited to welcome Michigan into town,” head coach Missy Meharg said. “They’re very deep, they’re very talented. We are more than prepared. I think for us right now, it’s about the luxury of being home, finally getting our fans being at a 50% capacity and playing a two-touch style of hockey.”

Maryland’s 1-1 split against one of the nation’s best teams last weekend elevated it two spots to No. 11 in the NFHCA Coaches Poll. The Terps are one of six Big Ten teams ranked, including this week’s opponent, No. 5 Michigan.

The last time these two teams met, the Wolverines took down the Terps in Ann Arbor, 1-0, in a battle of top-10 teams. Maryland holds a strong 19-3 all-time record against Michigan.

Both games will be played at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex at noon on Saturday and Sunday. Both games can be seen on BTN Plus.

Let’s now dive into the fifth-ranked team in the nation.

Michigan Wolverines (7-2)

2019 record: 13-7 (5-3 Big Ten)

Head coach Marcia Pankratz is in her 21st season leading the Michigan field hockey program. Pankratz, who began serving as the Wolverines’ head coach in 1996, is in her 12th straight season at the helm after taking a brief break from 2005-08. She brought the school its first and only field hockey national championship in 2001 after defeating Maryland in the title game. Pankratz has turned Michigan into a powerhouse, making eight of the last 10 NCAA tournaments and winning Big Ten regular season titles in 2017 and 2018.

The Wolverines have a 7-2 record by virtue of sweeping Michigan State and Rutgers while beating Northwestern, Iowa and Indiana. Michigan’s only losses are to Iowa and Northwestern. Pankratz has an experienced roster that will be a tough test for the Terps.

Players to know

Sarah Pyrtek, sophomore forward/midfielder, No. 28 — Pyrtek, who missed 10 games in 2019 due to injury, has started every game this season. In nine matches, she leads Michigan with four goals and nine points. A member of the French Under-21 National Team, Pyrtek has had three game-winning goals this season. She is on pace to have an All-Big Ten type of year for Michigan.

Halle O’Neill, senior defender, No. 22 — O’Neill has been a rock for Michigan in her four years, starting every match but two since her freshman campaign in 2017. The accolades poured in for O’Neill in 2019, earning First Team All-Big Ten and NFHCA All-West Region first team honors. Despite being a defender, O’Neill leads the team with three assists and nine shots on goal this season.

Anna Spieker, junior goalkeeper, No. 18 — As a sophomore in 2019, Spieker’s performance in the cage earned her a Second Team All-Big Ten selection. Starting every game but one this season, Spieker leads the conference with a .900 save percentage and 36 saves. Listed at 6-foot, the Germany native is the tallest player on the entire Michigan roster.

Strength

Defense. After playing arguably the peskiest defense in the nation last week in Iowa, Maryland will have another tough task on its hands in Michigan. In nine matches, the Wolverines have only allowed five goals total, good for a sparkling 0.56 goals-against average. This is largely credited to the performance of the All-Big Ten backfield Michigan has with Spieker in the cage and O’Neill on defense.

Weakness

Discipline. Looking through the statistics on this Wolverines team, it is hard to point out a specific weakness that they have. However, they do lead the Big Ten this season with three yellow cards. When a yellow card takes place, a player is suspended from play for between five and ten minutes. If the Terps can find a way to draw penalties on a team that is suspect to them, they could be able to capitalize playing with a player advantage.

Three things to watch

1. How does Maryland respond to being shut out its last time playing? The Terps saw their four-game winning streak dwindle in front of them as they fell to No. 2 Iowa, 3-0, last Sunday. The match seemed like a bit of an anomaly, as the Terps only had two shots in the first three quarters and did not earn a single penalty corner before pulling goaltender Noelle Frost with around 12 minutes to go.

“We have a challenge for us this weekend, playing Saturday and Sunday,” senior midfielder Kyler Greenwalt said. “It’s great preparation for the Big Ten tournament...it’s always so much fun playing Michigan, so [it] should be a really good match.”

If the Terps can return to the brand of hockey they played during their winning streak, their speed and penalty corner execution should prevail. It will be interesting to see the team’s response Saturday.

2. Can Rayne Wright continue her strong play from last weekend? The freshman defender from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, came into college with a lot of expectations. It is fair to say that she has lived up to them thus far. Wright played a key role in the Terps’ 1-0 shutout over Iowa last Friday and made a dazzling defensive save in front of an empty net in last Sunday’s 3-0 loss. Her performance was enough to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Wright looks to continue her strong play against another one of the nation’s best teams.

“I am so excited about these defenders and where they’re going,” Meharg said. “...Physically they’ve got it all, technically they’re doing their job. Emotionally and connectivity verbally, we have space to go and that’s what we’re working really hard on, but I couldn’t be happier.”

3. Will the Terps hold serve at home? Since the facility was built in 2003, Maryland is an incredible 190-20 at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex. This includes a remarkable 50-3 record against Big Ten teams at home. Pertaining to this specific matchup, Maryland is undefeated against Michigan at “The Plex,” winning all nine of its matchups against the Wolverines dating back to September 2003. The Terps look to continue their home dominance against Michigan this weekend.

“We’re home and you’re right, it feels a little weird,” Meharg said about playing only their third home match of the season with four matches to go. “I only remember Indiana, to be honest. This is super nice because we’ve got the back-to-back opportunity. Michigan’s a great team, so we know it’s gonna be a great match.”

Meharg’s players also shared the positive sentiment of being back at home.

“I think it’s exciting to play at home,” senior midfielder Brooke DeBerdine said. “On both two weekends and especially because we can have more fans this weekend, so that’ll be a lot of fun. But really, just staying focused on us. They’re always a fun team to play and it’s always a gritty game.”