Maryland field hockey coach Missy Meharg could have tried to convince her team Sunday’s game against Penn State was no different than any other.
She could have ignored the tie between No. 5 Penn State and the No. 6 Terps at the top of the Big Ten standings. She didn’t have to mention her team’s chance to clinch a share of its third consecutive Big Ten Championship with a victory on the Nittany Lions’ field or that the Terps’ contest would be on Big Ten Network.
Instead, Meharg spoke to her players Friday night after beating Ohio State and told them the truth: Their pending matchup with Penn State was important.
“We’ve been talking about this game from the second that we walked off the field Friday,” Meharg said. “We talked about what it’s going to take to step on the field and be on the biggest stage we have been. We had two days, and I left that for them to think about.”
Forward Welma Luus, who scored twice Sunday, said the team felt different on the way to the game.
“You could feel it on the bus ride heading over,” Luus said. “We were really excited and very focused. We could feel everybody being pumped up.”
Penn State’s fans realized the importance of the Sunday tilt, too. They showed up in droves, setting a program record with 967 people to create what Meharg called “a great environment.”
The clash fit the hype. The teams entered halftime tied 2-2 Then, the Terps tallied three consecutive goals to open the second half.
Penn State scored two in a two-minute span to pull within one with six minutes left, but the Terps held stout.
“We were ready for a big match,” defender Grace Balsdon said. “We’d been talking about it at both games to prepare for what we’d be up against today.”
Balsdon said her team fed off the energy of the crowd but stayed controlled. Plus, Meharg reminded them that the matches were a chance to clinch two road games in one weekend.
“We’ve been on the road [three times] and went 50-50,” Meharg said. “Our goal this time was to win both, and they followed the plan.”
Following the plan didn’t come without a snag, though. With the game on Big Ten Network, each half featured two media timeouts, which Meharg said changed the flow of the game.
At their mid-half meetings, the team huddled and discussed what system changes they wanted to make after the break, playing a chess match as the Nittany Lions coaches did the same on the other side of the field.
“That takes the whole complexion of the game higher,” Meharg said. “It’s really different for the coaches and the players.”
That increased competition level, which Meharg has also developed as part of the Big Ten’s emphasis on expanding the sport, shined in Sunday’s top-10 matchup.
After a pregame talk about the game’s implications and a bus ride filled with anticipation, the Terps rode out of University Park, Pennsylvania, with another crown.
“It’s amazing. We’re very excited,” Luus said. “We’re going to celebrate this.”