Maryland field hockey coach Missy Meharg has known since before the preseason that this year’s team would be heavily reliant on freshmen, but that doesn’t mean she could fully prepare them to excel at the highest college level.
Sunday’s 4-1 loss to No. 2 Syracuse showed their unpreparedness, and she didn’t hold back when describing the play of the six freshmen who have gotten consistent minutes.
“At times, they were a little bit like they were playing with their heads cut off,” Meharg said.
Still she’s expecting improvement from her team, specifically from the freshmen, this weekend. The Terps will play No. 4 Duke and No. 8 Boston College in the Big Ten/ACC Cup.
“It happens in the beginning state of the season,” senior midfielder Grace Balsdon said after the loss to the Orange. “We need to learn from it.”
After the game, Meharg said she was optimistic that her team would do just that. As she’s started to prepare her team for this weekend’s games, she still has that confidence.
In the loss to Syracuse, Meharg saw bright spots in the team’s performance. They played a strong first half, and the stats told the story of a relatively even game.
But there was also a lot to improve on. The Terps are hoping to prove that they’ve made important strides when they take the field this weekend.
“We’ve responded really well,” Meharg said. “We had such a wonderful session [Monday] of just debriefing the game.”
Specifically, the 29-year head coach expects significant jumps from the six freshmen — two of whom started — who received minutes against the Orange.
Meharg raves about this freshman class’ fitness and skills, but she said many of them still have to master the mental aspects of the game, especially at a higher level.
One of those areas is recognizing other team’s energy levels and matching them.
As a whole, the team was content with its play in the first half against Syracuse, as they held an early 1-0 lead. But when the Orange scored the equalizer just before halftime, they took the momentum and used it to outclass the Terps in the second half.
“I know we lost, but it was exciting seeing how we played that first half,” forward Welma Luus said. “If we can play like that and we still have so much room for growth, it’s exciting.”
Meharg thinks that having the experience of playing the Syracuse game and reviewing it this week will prevent her team from making a similar mistake going forward.
“[The freshmen] are young women that don’t understand game management and temperament,” Meharg said. “We’ve done it and done it enough [in practice], but when you play a team like Syracuse … it’s different.”
Meharg and the rest of her coaching staff aren’t the only ones who are helping the rookies make the transition.
In order for the freshmen to get up to speed, Meharg is leaning on her more experienced players to step up and direct them.
“It’s about what [Luus] and the women who are juniors and seniors expect,” she said. “It needs to be a demanding tone, but not a desperate tone, [saying] ‘I need this.'”
With the experience they gained in the loss and increased direction from the leaders of the team, Meharg said she expects her freshmen to be a lot different this weekend.
“This is going to be a work in progress,” Meharg said.