The No. 6 Maryland field hockey team began their 2016 season Friday with a 6-2 win over Saint Joseph’s in a game that showcased the talent and experience of the Terps’ upperclassmen.
Maryland dominated from the start of the game, not allowing Saint Joe’s to take a shot until 26 minutes had passed, and finishing with a shot advantage of 24-9.
“This is a much improved team from a year ago,” coach Missy Meharg said.
Last year, the Terps went 19-4 and undefeated in Big Ten play before suffering a surprising defeat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
All six of the Terps’ goals against Saint Joe’s were scored by seniors, with two each coming from midfielder Grace Balsdon and forwards Welma Luus and Emma Rissinger.
Balsdon, who was making her debut for the Terps after playing most of her life in England’s Premier League, scored her first NCAA goal in the eighth minute to give the Terps a 1-0 lead. She’d pick up another score at the end of the first half.
“Grace has an incredible amount of confidence and she can put the ball where she wants it,” Meharg said. “She grew up with a stick in her hands and she has a world-class understanding of the game.”
Sixth-year senior Luus followed up her breakout 2015 campaign with a pair of goals as well. Her first came in the 31st minute, regaining the lead for the Terps after Saint Joe’s had tied it at 1-1. She also scored the game’s final goal, coming with a little over five minutes to play in the second half.
“[The seniors] are just trying to bring experience and leadership,” Luus said. “I’ve been through this five times already and I think it’s just the leadership that comes from that … we want to lead by example and give our best on the field and have the other girls feed of that.”
Luus took as many shots (9) as the entire Hawks team.
The other two Terps’ goals came off the stick of redshirt senior Rissinger, matching her career high set against Princeton last season. She scored Maryland’s fourth and fifth goals of the game, coming in the 48th and 55th minutes.
“I think a lot of the goals were just us knowing where to be on the field and circle, and having balance in the circle,” Rissinger said. “It just comes from our conditioning and practice.”
Junior midfielder Lein Holsboer set a career high with four assists, two of which were corners taken by Holsboer that were scored by Balsdon. She also picked up an assist on one of Luus’ and Rissinger’s scores.
“She’s just incredible, if you look at her play she is one of the most selfless players I’ve seen,” Luus said. “She will always knock the ball to a teammate. The way she creates those assists and goals is really really good.”
Even though they may not have earned any points in the season-opener, the team was excited about the play of the many newcomers to the team. Meharg put two freshmen in the starting lineup (forward Sophie Pelzer and midfielder Madison Maguire) and seven freshmen saw playing time in the opener.
She pointed to the fitness and play of freshman midfielder Kelee Lepage as particularly impressive.
“She’s the most fit player on the team,” Meharg said. “This young woman can run.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Holliday wasn’t tested much in the cage, allowing two goals and making one save. She played 58 minutes before being replaced by junior Penn State transfer Sarah Bates, who played the final 12 minutes rest of the game without having to make a save.
It was a comfortable start to the season for the Terps, and for the most part the first game went according to plan. But Meharg and the rest of the team knows they have plenty to improve on, like avoiding surrendering penalty corners, which led to one of St. Joe’s two goals. They also know they have a significant test coming on Sunday against No. 2 Syracuse.
For now, though, Meharg was content with her team’s play.
“It was a great start,” she said. “I think we did a tremendous job of reloading [from last year] and we’re a very good field hockey team.”