A major factor in tomorrow's 5 p.m. field hockey game between Johns Hopkins and Salisbury State will be right beneath the toes.
The second-round NCAA Division III women's playoff matchup -- at the College of New Jersey in Ewing -- is on artificial turf, familiar to one team, foreign to the other.
Hopkins (16-2) has played eight of its past nine games on turf, and Salisbury State (15-3) has played one game on turf in 1999. Sea Gulls coach Dawn Chamberlin has dismissed a 2-0 win over Hopkins on Sept. 23 that came on grass.
"It will be a totally different game," Chamberlin said. "[Turf] is not familiar territory to us, so that changes the dynamics. It's a much faster game, for one thing."
Megan Callahan's charges at Hopkins are feeling much more comfortable after a pair of wins over top-five ranked Gettysburg, including a 1-0 overtime win Saturday for the Centennial Conference tournament title.
The Blue Jays believe the experience on turf -- along with increased confidence and a tough defense -- can propel them past a team playing in its 15th NCAA tournament in 16 seasons. The flat surface means a better short-passing game and more proficiency on corner plays.
"We have a dozen set corner plays that we can rely on because we practice them continually," Hopkins back and all-conference selection Jenny Silverman said. "It's hard to simulate that if you don't practice on turf."
Since the setback in Salisbury, Hopkins has won 13 of its past 14 games, an overtime loss to Western Maryland on Oct. 12 serving as the only scar. It's a long way from where the program was when Callahan took over in 1997.
The team was made up of athletic players out of position and lacking the skills needed to succeed in college field hockey.
"They were athletic, but they were missing the small passing game we have now," Callahan said. The players "learned to trust me to know what I was talking about and that changes I suggested would make them better players."
One who has flourished under Callahan has been Silverman, a senior from Centennial who began her career as a forward lacking speed.
Now, her communicative skills are an asset on defense, alerting teammates ahead of her in an effort that has prevented all but seven goals by opponents this season.
"They were able to see what my strengths were and put me where I could use those," she said.
Last year, the team was 10-9, partially because it had eight freshmen playing and gave up four times as many goals as it has this season.
Thanks to a new formation of four forwards, four midfielders and two backs, the team hasn't had to be as reliant on the backs. The forwards and midfielders have often taken the ball from opponents before it gets too deep into their side of the field.
Goalie Katie Retyar, an all-conference selection along with Silverman and midfielders Barbara Ordes and Lauren Carney, has also figured in 11 shutouts.
"Last year, it was a frustrating year because we had talent but we couldn't pull out the wins," Carney said. "This year, we're putting the ball in the cage and keeping it out of ours."
The Sea Gulls are more established, and Chamberlin said that only the team's youth separates it from the national semifinalists of 1987, '88 and '92. Eventually, the group could be as good as the 1986 championship squad, she added.
The top two scorers, freshman Jill Cressor and sophomore Marie Brewington, have combined for 68 points. Defender Katie Richardson and goalie Joanna Fenske are sophomores.
"This is probably one of the best; it certainly ranks with some of the best teams I've had in my tenure," said Chamberlin, in her 13th season as coach.
Elsewhere in field hockey, Maryland takes a 16-game winning streak into the ACC tournament tonight in Winston-Salem, N.C. The conference champion Terps (18-1), ranked No. 1 in Division I, play the winner of Wake Forest and Duke at 7 p.m.
Towson's Joe Lee earned consensus national Player of the Week honors after throwing for 567 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to Lehigh on Saturday. Lee, who leads Division I-AA in passing yards (3,355) and total offense (3,265), set an NCAA Division I-AA record with 77 attempts. At Morgan State (2-5), Marcus Brown will start at quarterback in tomorrow's game at Hampton. He had relieved an injured Willie McGirt (out for the season) during the North Carolina A&T; game, but suffered a concussion that kept him out of the Delaware State game on Oct. 23. Marc Lester, who served as quarterback for that game, will return to wide receiver. One reason for Johns Hopkins' disappointing football season (3-5): 23 starters have missed games because of injury. Western Maryland (8-0) takes a 28-game regular-season winning streak and a 19-game Centennial Conference winning streak into its game against Swarthmore. Bowie State (5-3), which hired its coach, Henry Frazier III, in July, still clinched its second consecutive winning season after 10 straight losing seasons.
In men's soccer, unbeaten UMBC (17-0-1) plays host to the Northeast Conference tournament starting at noon today. Mount St. Mary's (10-6-2) is the No. 2 seed. Towson (10-3-4) plays host to Northeastern in the America East tourney at 1 p.m. Sunday. Loyola (11-5-2) is playing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tourney in Orlando, Fla. Loyola's women's team (12-4-1) is the No. 2 seed in this weekend's MAAC tourney at Fairfield. In cross country, Jill Krebs' second-place finish gave Western Maryland its first Centennial Conference championship.