Long before the Maryland field hockey team lost three of four games at the end of September, rebounded to win seven straight and earned an NCAA championship appearance, the Terps wore sweatshirts into a pool. As part of their preseason team-building exercises, coach Missy Meharg’s players had to keep the teammate next to them above the water.
The Terps weren’t yet comfortable with each other, so the aim of the exercises was to build trust. As it turns out, the relationships were built weeks before Maryland’s first contest. The team’s seniors exchanged text messages with the incoming freshmen to reinforce expectations.
That trust took Maryland to the championship game against No. 1-seed Connecticut. The Terps fell, 2-1, but their core of talented freshmen now has final four experience. A return to the title game could be imminent.
“Maryland strung nine or 10 final fours together,” Meharg said. “We’ve been a little dry. You get to that place and say, ‘How are we going to do this?’ It’s a testament to the senior class and our alumni.”
Under Meharg’s leadership, the Terps had never gone four seasons without a final four appearance. About a month into the season, that streak appeared to be in jeopardy. Consecutive losses to Duke and Boston College in the Big Ten/ACC Cup didn’t create panic. Neither did one-goal losses to Princeton and Northwestern.
But on Sept. 29, the No. 9 Terps fell to then-No. 6 Michigan with a second left in double-overtime. Meharg, in her 30th season, had never experienced defeat in such a way. Neither had anyone on the coaching staff.
At 6-5, the Terps were in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.
The Terps held a players-only practice three days after their loss to the Wolverines. They demanded more of each other and promised to hold each other accountable. It changed the course of their season and fueled Maryland’s postseason run.
“There was never any drama,” midfielder Kyler Greenwalt said. “No one would fight. [We learned to] always give one more than you think.”
After the last-second loss in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Maryland won seven straight before falling to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. Still, the youthful Terps didn’t falter. Unseeded in the NCAA tournament, they topped Wake Forest and upset No. 2 Duke in Durham, North Carolina.
Facing a Michigan team that carried an 18-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament semifinals, Maryland came away with another upset win.
Defender Bodil Keus said the Terps had nothing to lose after their most recent win against the Wolverines. They played that way in the championship game, too, tying the game in the second half and remaining competitive.
Senior defender Carrie Hanks anchored the backline and senior midfielder Lein Holsboer and junior forward Linnea Gonzales combined for 21 goals throughout the season, but the team’s youth powered its success.
Keus led the Terps with 13 scores and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Greenwalt started all but nine contests and scored seven times, her last goal coming against the Huskies. Defenders Sophie Giezeman and Hannah Bond contained opposing attacks.
Quickly, the team didn’t appear inexperienced.
“They were really eager to learn with us and latch on to what we have,” Hanks said. “Everyone has made the same commitment.”