The day before Maryland field hockey’s Sept. 2 game against Duke, senior Courtney Deena found out she’d be in the starting lineup for the first time in her career.
“I texted my mom and she was like, ‘Oh my god I have to be there for announcements,'” Deena said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, you do.'”
Entering Friday’s game with Michigan State, Deena has grown accustomed to hearing her name come through the PA system before games. All the while, she’s been adjusting to being moved to a new position.
“She is fitter than she has been, she is very versatile and she’s a wicked tenacious defender,” coach Missy Meharg said. “She has really taken on a very courageous way to play.”
The Terps lost three defensive players from 2015, and just one of the 10 freshmen who joined the program are defenders. So Meharg moved Deena, who had been listed as a forward and midfielder in her first three years with the team, to the backline.
“She was really looking to have a more experienced backfield,” Deena said. “We graduated a lot of defense … That was the whole mindset of the transition.”
Meharg made similar moves with senior Delaney Leathers and redshirt junior Marissa Cutry to make sure the defense was filled with veterans.
With 10 freshman on the team, “it makes sense to have that leadership behind people to talk to them,” Meharg said.
In 2015, the team relied on Big Ten Player of the Year Sarah Sprink and three-year starter Kasey Tapman to anchor its defense. Their graduations left openings in the backline that Meharg had to fill.
It was the type of opportunity Deena had been waiting three years for. The Pickerington, Ohio, native played 11 games in her first two seasons and 17 as a junior, but all her appearances came as a reserve.
“We had different girls that really had played from their freshman year,” Deena said. “So it was just about waiting [my] turn and being patient in those processes … I just kept working.”
Deena has played all of the team’s games in 2016 and started in most of them. While Deena spent most of her time at Maryland focusing on scoring goals, defender Carrie Hanks thinks her experience all around the field has helped her this season.
“Getting moved around, you see different perspectives,” Hanks said. “You see, as a midfielder, what the back needs out of you, and vice-versa.”
Deena was also able to learn from Sprink, Tapman and the rest of the defenders she shared the field with.
“Sarah Sprink was our field general,” Hanks said. “She knew how to take charge and how to tell us how to play.”
Sprink graduated after last season, but Deena said she sometimes gets texts from Sprink with suggestions on how she could have handled game situations better.
Rather than expect just one person to replace all of Sprink’s leadership, Hanks said the team has looked for everybody to step up. That hasn’t been a problem for Deena, Meharg said.
“She’s a very confident woman,” Meharg said. “She’s, intellectually, very serious about what she’s doing.”
In the past, Deena had been mostly restricted to showing those traits on the practice field. This year, she’s proving herself as a regular member of the team’s starting 11.
“Ultimately, they all want to get on the field,” Meharg said. “I love to see it when someone works so hard at it for three years and then finally finds their way into a lot of minutes and into a very important role for us.”