When the Maryland field hockey team lost its first-round game in the NCAA Tournament last season, it marked the team’s worst postseason finish since 1994, when the Terps didn’t make the tournament.
The defeat also meant that, for the first time since 1997 and 1998, the Terps went back-to-back seasons without reaching the semifinals at least once.
But entering her 29th season at the helm of the program, coach Missy Meharg isn’t dwelling on the past.
Despite a difficult schedule and early-season reliance on freshmen, Meharg is confident her No. 6 squad can hit its stride and compete with the best teams in the country.
“My philosophy is ‘the moment is motivation,'” Meharg said. “We’re very process-driven … I just like to stay focused on what I can control.”
After the university’s move to the Big Ten prior to the 2014 season, Meharg worked with coaches in the conference to add tougher opponents, most of which the Terps used to play annually in the ACC.
This season, the Terps’ schedule features 10 opponents ranked in the preseason Top 25, including four of the top five.
And the Terps didn’t ease into the slate.
Maryland lost 4-1 against No. 2 Syracuse on Sunday and will face off against No. 4 Duke and No. 8 Boston College this weekend.
“I always say to the women, ‘If you want to be the best, play the best as much as you possibly can,'” Meharg said.
To validate their preseason standing, the Terps understand they’ll rely on contributions from rookies, who are part of Meharg’s biggest freshmen class in a decade.
Of the 10 freshmen on the team, seven of whom Meharg expects to play this season, four have already started a game. Midfielders Kelee Lepage and Madison Maguire and defender Anouck van Asbeck are newcomers the coach has highlighted.
“A lot of freshmen got playing time and really contributed,” forward Welma Luus said after the team’s season-opening 6-2 win over Saint Joseph’s. “That’s really exciting for us.”
Meharg expects growing pains as she gives the young players extensive time against top opponents, but the Terps also have a host of veterans returning across the field.
Luus, who scored twice as many goals as anybody on the team last season, received a sixth year of eligibility this summer after starting her Maryland career as a tennis player.
She, along with midfielders Linnea Gonzales and Lein Holsboer were named preseason Big Ten Players to Watch, but Luus thinks this year’s team has “no real stars,’ giving the squad a diverse attack.
“She’s one of our captains, and she is the go-to player up front,” Meharg said. “You can be sure [teams] are going to mark her and going to be really, really tight and do everything they can to double down on Welma Luus.”
Defensively, the Terps tout graduate transfer Grace Balsdon, playing alongside Carrie Hanks and Delaney Leathers, both of whom started every game last year. They will anchor the backline, while last year’s starting goalkeeper Sarah Holliday and Sarah Bates compete for time in the net.
“We’ve got two great goaltenders,” Meharg said. “The best thing about them is they want the best for each other.”
The Terps play this campaign as the reigning Big Ten regular-season and tournament champions, but Meharg won’t be paying much attention to past postseason performance.
At least, not just yet.
“When you have the history of winning championships, the expectation sits there,” she said. “For me, it’s just about staying present.”