COLLEGE PARK -- Michelle Salmon lies face down on the ground beside a teammate, waiting for the loose-ball drill to begin. The ball is tossed 5 yards ahead, and the battle for control commences.
Salmon trails by a few steps at the beginning. She doesn't have a good angle at the ball, either.
But she keeps sprinting and poking and eventually comes away with the ball.
"Tactically, they might be better than me," said Salmon, an Old Mill alumna and a 5-foot-4 sophomore midfielder for the Maryland women's soccer team. "But I get by through hard work. I feel that I work harder than anyone else. That's my edge on a lot of players."
Salmon and the Terps (14-3) will look for an edge when they play host to top-ranked and nine-time defending national champion North Carolina tomorrow at 1 p.m.
The Tar Heels (19-0), who have won 29 straight, traditionally dominate the midfield, trapping the ball on their offensive end. As a result, North Carolina has more goals (83) than its opponents have shots (71).
The midfield is where Maryland needs to play North Carolina even. That's where Salmon enters.
Throughout a game, Salmon constantly lunges, slides and collides in the open field. Whatever it takes to round up the loose ball and feed the Maryland attack.
"I think every player has to make the adjustment to the speed of the game and physical play," Terps coach April Heinrichs said. "She adjusted right away to the physical play and has worked on keeping up with the tempo."
Through her enduring work ethic, Salmon has enjoyed such labels as a blue-collar and tenacious player. Anything but aggressive.
"I don't like calling how I play as aggressive," Salmon said. "To me, it's just playing the game of soccer."
However, the game of soccer changed for Salmon when she arrived at Maryland. The accolades and nonstop defensive attention faded.
Salmon has played on U.S. national teams. She has starred on several prominent club teams. She holds Anne Arundel County's all-time goal mark with 90.
For the Terps, she ranks fifth in scoring with two goals and four assists, which was an average week's total in high school. And although she hasn't scored since Sept. 12, Salmon has a growing confidence in her game.
"When Old Mill needed a goal, they gave the ball to me and everyone stood back," Salmon said. "I'm as hungry as the next player to score a goal. And when I get an opportunity, I'm going to try and put the ball in the back of the net. But here, my role is to make my teammates look good."
Salmon also has played that role off the field. She is known as one of the most dependable players for the Terps since she drives teammates home and occasionally finishes typing a paper for someone in a pinch.
"She's the type of person that will do favors anytime, even if she doesn't really feel like doing it," said sophomore forward Michelle Deville, who rooms with Salmon. "There's only a few people so willing to do that. She never minds going out of her way for you."