After the first game of this season, Maryland field hockey coach Missy Meharg talked about the importance and uniqueness of penalty corners.
“It’s an odd game,” she said after the team’s 6-2 win over Saint Joseph’s on Aug. 6. “You can take 10 or 20 shots, but you give up one corner and that changes the game.”
After the Terps’ campaign ended Sunday with a 3-0 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA quarterfinals, Meharg again discussed the game-changing nature of corners.
The Tar Heels scored two corner goals, and Maryland failed to convert any of its five set-piece chances. The team attributed UNC’s success to stellar shots from midfielder Ashley Hoffman, but the Terps finished the campaign on an 0-for-26 corner skid.
“Their set pieces were outstanding,” Meharg said. “The two penalty corner shots obviously put us on our heels.”
Despite earning one less penalty corner than Maryland, UNC used its chances control the game. The Tar Heels’ conversions came off Hoffman’s stick.
“She has a tremendous drag flick,” said defender Carrie Hanks, who played with Hoffman on the U-21 national team. “We knew going in that that would be an option that they would try.”
Hoffman entered the weekend with six goals and added another against Stanford in the first round Saturday. That was one of two corner goals the Tar Heels netted against the Cardinals.
They carried that momentum into Sunday. Hoffman opened the scoring in the 25th minute on the game’s first penalty corner and added to their lead about three minutes after halftime. Both scores were drag flicks low and to goalkeeper Sarah Holliday’s right.
“We were prepared for them, but she executed them well,” Hanks said.
Meharg agreed, not blaming Holliday or any other part of her defense for failing to stop Hoffman’s efforts.
On the other end of the field, the Terps couldn’t match Hoffman’s success.
Maryland went 0-for-5 on its corner attempts, squandering its chances to get back into the game and avoid its first postseason shutout since 2007.
Meharg said her team had narrow misses on those opportunities.
“We had some looks,” Meharg said. “[Forward Welma Luus] being able to come back and be down there, that was a pretty open shot. It was a little fast-paced pass to her, but it was definitely a corner that could’ve gone.”
That try came in the 60th minute. But instead of a point, forward Linnea Gonzales’ pass went past Luus and out of bounds by to the post. Aside from that, perhaps the Terps’ best look on a corner came on their first one when defender Grace Balsdon rocketed a high drag flick but Tar Heels goalkeeper Shannon Johnson knocked it down.
It wasn’t a new problem for the Terps, who haven’t concerted a corner since its Big Ten tournament semifinal win against Northwestern.
“As we get further into the tournament, it wasn’t just our execution that was faltering,” Hanks said. “The defenses we were going against were a lot stronger.”
Still, the missed opportunities hurt Meharg.
“Five penalty corners,” Meharg said, “that’s enough to win a game.”
And as the Tar Heels proved, four is enough to end a season.