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Maryland field hockey takes aim at ninth NCAA championship, hopes to end title drought

Katie O’Donnell was a member of the Maryland field hockey program that captured NCAA championships in 2008 and 2010. But O’Donnell, who now goes by her married name Bam and is an assistant coach for the Terps, has refrained from sharing her memories from those days with the current players.

“I think she’s saving them so that we can experience it for ourselves — whenever that may be,” senior forward Linnea Gonzales said.

Maryland is on the cusp of writing its own storybook ending. The No. 2 seed Terps (21-2) will meet No. 3 seed Princeton (15-4) in an NCAA tournament semifinal at 3:45 p.m. Friday at Trager Stadium in Louisville. Top-seeded North Carolina (21-0) will clash with unseeded Wake Forest (13-9) in an earlier semifinal at 1 p.m.

The title game — scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. — seems tantalizingly close, but junior midfielder Madison Maguire said the priority is getting past the Tigers.

“We’ll see,” she said. “We have to focus on one game at a time.”

Maryland has claimed eight national crowns, which is just one shy of the NCAA record of nine owned by Old Dominion. But the last squad to celebrate on the final day of the season was the 2011 squad — a dearth that has not escaped the attention of the current players.

“I think we’re all very hungry to break the drought,” said Gonzales, a Bel Air resident and Patterson Mill graduate who was named The Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro Player of the Year in 2013 and the Big Ten Player of the Year this fall. “Maryland’s a program with a lot of pride and a lot of history, and I think we want to contribute to that and make some for ourselves. The past teams can do what they do, but we have to make it work for ourselves, and we want to make a name for ourselves as well. We can’t just live off the past championships.”

Head coach Missy Meharg, who has been at the helm for seven of the program’s championships, acknowledged the rarity of the six-year void, which is the longest in her 31-year tenure.

“I don’t feel it’s urgent, but we just want to do it,” she said. “No one needs it. You just want it, and I believe that I’ve got the team and the coaching staff to make a great run at it.”

The Terps had an opportunity to break the spell last season, but fell to top-seeded Connecticut, 2-1, in the tournament final. They exacted a measure of revenge by sweeping the Huskies, 4-2 in the regular season and 2-1 in overtime in Sunday’s quarterfinal round.

Asked if evicting Connecticut from the postseason was satisfying after what happened last fall, Maguire said: “I mean, a little, but we were just excited to be in an Elite Eight game. Obviously, it happened to be UConn, and we have a little history, but we were just going to play our game plan and just follow what Missy was telling us to do and get it done.”

Maryland does not have a player in the Top 25 in the country in goals, assists or points per game, but the team’s strength is its balance. Forward Bibi Donraadt — the Big Ten Freshman of the Year — Gonzales and junior Nike Lorenz are tied for the team lead in goals with 14 each and rank 1-2-3 in points, respectively. Maguire leads the offense in assists with 12, and senior goalkeeper Sarah Holliday, a Clarksville resident, ranks fifth in school history in career saves with 258.

If there is one concern Gonzales has, it is the team’s habit of starting slowly in a few games this season. The Terps fell behind 4-1 against Princeton before rallying for a 5-4 win in double overtime Sept. 18 and had to score twice in the second half to edge Albany, 2-1, in the tournament’s first round Nov. 9.

“We just need to come out hard from the start,” she said. “I feel like with the Albany game, we had a little lapse from the beginning with not really coming out too strong. We just need everybody to come out with that fiery energy, and then I think we’ll be OK.”

But Maguire said the current squad is a year older and a year wiser.

“We were a very young team,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a reason why we lost or anything, but I think that now that we’re seasoned and have been to the title game, we competed last year. We had a lot more players who just stepped onto the field for the first time last year. Now they’re in their second year, and we have a couple freshmen who are stepping up. I think we’re just a little more experienced this time.”

Maryland will face a Tigers program headed by a pair of Meharg’s former players in coach Carla Tagliente and assistant coach Dina Rizzo. Since 2012, the Terps own a 6-3 record against Princeton, but those three losses are tied for the second-most Maryland has suffered against an opponent over that span.

The Terps are 4-0 in rematches this season after sweeping Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and Connecticut. Meharg would love to see the team improve to 5-0 in that department.

“I’d like for that statistic to hold true,” Meharg said with a laugh. “I didn’t know that, but that is a very strong statistic. I think that represents how my team is just super professional. I’m not really sure if they look back at this and that. I’ve had teams that really loved that get-back, sort of vengeful storylines. These guys just haven’t been into any storylines. They just get out and they play. I really believe they think they can always play a better brand, and that’s an exciting place to be as a coach because they’re not quite content enough.”

Ending the drought

The Maryland field hockey program is one of the most decorated in NCAA history as its eight national championships rank second only to Old Dominion’s record nine titles. But the Terps have gone six years since bringing home their last crown. Here is how they have fared in the postseason since winning it all in 2011.

Year; Seed; Result (Tournament finish)

2012: Unseeded; Lost 3-2 in overtime to No. 2 seed Princeton (semifinals)

2013: No. 1; Lost 3-2 to No. 4 seed Duke (semifinals)

2014: No. 2; Lost 2-1 to Albany (quarterfinals)

2015: Unseeded; Lost 3-1 to Princeton (first round)

2016: No. 2; Lost 3-0 to North Carolina (quarterfinals)

2017: Unseeded; Lost 2-1 to No. 1 Connecticut (final)

2018: No. 2; vs. No. 3 seed Princeton (semifinals)

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