Maryland field hockey midfielder Grace Balsdon may be one of the most experienced players in the nation, but this weekend’s games against Saint Joseph’s and Syracuse marked the first two NCAA appearances of her career.
Balsdon, a graduate transfer from Canterbury Christ Church University, joined the Terps in the offseason after an extensive club career in England. Though she’s new to the college level, Balsdon impressed in the team’s first two games.
She scored twice in the 6-2 win over St. Joseph’s on Friday and posted the Terps’ lone goal in their 4-1 loss to Syracuse on Sunday. She combined for nine shots over the weekend, serving as an attacking force as coach Missy Meharg’s squad builds chemistry.
“She really keeps the defense on their toes, which is a real positive for us,” Meharg said.
Balsdon’s burst comes on the heels of her playing career in her hometown, Canterbury, England. She started playing field hockey when she was five years old, climbing the ladder through the Canterbury Hockey Club’s age groups before earning a spot on the highest-level squad when she was 14.
“A lot of English players start playing soccer and then switch to field hockey, but not Grace,” Meharg said. “That gives her a huge advantage.”
She was a captain for the Canterbury’s Premier Division team in the England Hockey League for the past three years, helping the team to one championship and two second-place finishes.
Balsdon, whom the Terps list as a midfielder but use more as a central defender, scored five goals for Canterbury last season and anchored the defense, which posted nine shutouts in 18 games.
Her most dangerous attacking skill is her drag flick, a shot when the player receives the ball behind her body and whips it forward. The ability gives her an edge on penalty corner and stroke looks.
Her two goals against St. Joseph’s came off of penalty corners, and her goal against the Orange was a penalty stroke.
“My goals have come from the fantastic work of our attackers in the attacking 25 [-yard line],” Balsdon said. “I’m just the one who put it in.”
In their first two games, the Terps earned 11 corners, and Balsdon took a shot on seven of them, including her two goals. The penalty stroke she scored was the only penalty stroke of the Terps’ first two games.
“With the drag [flick], I think she went bottom left with one and top left with the other,” Meharg said about Balsdon’s versatility against the Hawks.
Though the 2016 campaign is Balsdon’s lone season of NCAA eligibility, she’s emerged as one of the most experienced players on Maryland’s roster.
And despite being just as new to the program and the college level as the team’s freshmen, Balsdon has tried to use her experiences from England’s club and national team field programs to become a leader.
“I’m lucky to have had a fair bit of experience and I’m trying to help bring [the freshmen’s] confidence up,” Balsdon said. “I want to help them make the step up from high school to college.”
Meharg and Balsdon agreed that despite her early success, the Terps haven’t gelled through their first two games. They’re hoping the peak will come later and bring stronger results as the season continues.
“She’s a champion, [but] she’s still getting used to her team,” Meharg said. “She’s doing a great job just feeling out the people around her. Every game opportunity is going to get her further and further along.”