Maryland field hockey is still looking to shore up defense despite three straight shutouts

Maryland field hockey coach Missy Meharg before her team's 6-0 win over Indiana on Oct. 13, 2019 at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex. (Gabby Baniqued/The Diamondback)

After Maryland field hockey conceded a late goal to then-No. 5 Northwestern on Oct. 3, coach Missy Meharg pulled her team aside and urged them to keep fighting — particularly on the defensive end.

The Terps’ backline was stout up until the goal, conceding only one shot in the first 57 minutes of the game. And despite the Wildcats’ equalizer, Meharg praised the team for its dominance.

“[I told them] you’ve played well enough, you’ve earned the right to win this game,” Meharg said with a chuckle. “It’s a matter of details and figuring out matchups.”

So, Maryland did just that, limiting Northwestern to zero shots on goal in the overtime periods en route to a 2-1 double-overtime victory. And ever since Kirsten Mansfield’s rebounded effort found the back of Noelle Frost’s cage, the Terps’ defense has been unblemished, recording clean sheets in each of its past three games.

With Maryland set to face off against No. 9 Michigan and its high-powered attack, the Terps are looking to build on the defensive stability they’ve shown in their last three games — even if there’s still room for improvement in that area.

“They know what they’re good at and they continue to work on those things even though they are good at them,” forward Lizzy Dessoye said. “Their communication and work ethic is really helping us win these games and have these shutouts.”

[Read more: Intertwined on the pitch and off it, Maryland field hockey expresses itself with braids]

The Terps rank among the top five teams in the country in goals conceded, owing much of their success to Frost’s impressive form. The redshirt senior has stepped in following Sarah Holliday’s departure, earning Division I Defensive Player of the Week honors on two occasions this season.

Meanwhile, the backline has stood its ground as well, limiting the quality of opposition’s chances in recent weeks. The Terps have held opponents to five shots on goal or fewer in three of their last four games. Meharg’s squad credits its defensive renaissance to its composed mentality.

“They are under unbelievable pressure and they’re able to just think about the simple thing and do the simple pass,” forward Mayv Clune said. “I think they just have a great mental attitude toward everything — they know what they have to do and they do their job.”

[Read more: After starters built a big lead, Maryland field hockey’s bench sealed win over Indiana]

Despite their impressive defensive record — conceding only 11 goals in 14 games — the Terps are hoping to improve as they race toward postseason play. Maryland has struggled with restlessness in the defensive third of the pitch at times, with defenders so focused on snuffing out wayward passes and ambitious dribble attempts that it pushes them out of position.

But Meharg is pushing the team to work on tightening its defensive shape, especially with a matchup against yet another Big Ten power looming.

“We have so much fun work to do,” Meharg said. “If you can’t intercept, then be patient — be under the play. That’s another piece we can get better at.”

Given the Wolverines’ firepower, it seems Friday will serve as the perfect test of strength to see how much the Terps have to improve upon to prepare for postseason play, especially in the defensive third.

“We’re a good team, we’re not a great team,” Meharg said. “If you’re not great yet, you want to be great in November, and that’s our goal.”

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