COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland field hockey goalie Irene Horvat has mixed feelings about this season.
One year after winning the second national championship in Maryland field hockey history, the third ranked Terps have only three returning starters and two seniors. That means Horvat has a brand new defense in front of the goal, which is somewhat unsettling to her.
"I must admit, it is a little scary and a little exciting," said Horvat, a senior from Victoria, Australia. "We have less experience than we've had in past years. I've already accepted that I will have to make more saves this year."
Horvat averaged only four saves a game last season because Maryland dominated games on the offensive end. But 50 percent of the Terps' goal production is gone from a team that ended the season by winning 16 of its final 17 games for a school-record 22 wins.
In addition to graduating six seniors, Maryland lost two integral freshmen. Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year Lori Vile was declared academically ineligible, and Josephine Blauw returned home to the Netherlands.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that we have experience even with losing eight starters," said Maryland coach Missy Meharg, the Division I Coach of the Year last season. "We had one of the deepest benches, using up to five people at times. But what you have to also look at is our experience in goal and at sweeper. You have to get the ball in the cage to win, so it's good we have experience in the backfield."
That backfield includes the Terps' only seniors, Horvat and Laura Harmon. Harmon was second in the ACC with 27 points.
Both, however, have played three years as part of the supporting cast, which could cause some problems.
"My only worry is going to be who will be a leader," Meharg said. "It's not realistic to think everyone is going to be at the top of their game every game. So I wonder who is going to step up when everyone is not playing well."
Horvat is the leading candidate for that role. A three-year starter in the goal, Horvat is extremely consistent and seems impermeable in pressure situations.
"She is very experienced and good leader," North Carolina coacKaren Shelton said. "She communicates really well to her defenders and directs them from behind."
After facing two shots in 100 minutes of play in last year's title game, Horvat blocked all three North Carolina attempts in her second career stroke-off. Horvat's play over shadowed the Tar Heels' Peggy Storrar, the ACC Goalkeeper of the Year.
Horvat has given up 57 goals in 68 career games. She tied the Maryland record for shutouts (12) last season, which she set in 1991. For her career, Horvat has recorded shutouts in 50 percent her games.
Last year, Horvat was named to the NCAA all-tournament team and first team Mid-Atlantic.
"I think I anticipate well," Horvat said. "I can see the players coming down the field, and know where they are going. It's like a chess match to me."