As the first half of Maryland field hockey’s matchup with No. 21 Ohio State came to a close, the team huddled together, frustrated by its offensive performance throughout the weekend.
The scoreboard read 2-0 in the Buckeyes’ favor, pushing the Terps to its sixth consecutive scoreless quarter. And given the tepid offensive display in the opening 30 minutes of the game, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking coach Missy Meharg’s voice would dominate the halftime discussion.
But instead, Meharg left it to her players — typical for the instructor who, in her 32nd season, still takes pride in her team’s independence. And the players made no qualms about what they had to do in the second half: play attacking field hockey.
Fifteen minutes later, it was the Terps who held a two-goal lead, and it was their explosive third-quarter performance that catapulted Maryland to an impressive 6-3 victory on Sunday.
“We know we’re capable of making the impossible happen,” forward Bibi Donraadt said. “We were just trying to pump each other up to make sure we bring the energy and score some goals.”
After failing to break down a resolute Michigan defense on Friday, the Terps were looking to get off to an early start in Columbus.
And they did, pressuring the Buckeyes into a penalty corner 90 seconds into the game. While Maryland’s subsequent attempt failed to find the cage, it set a precedent for what was an enthralling first 15 minutes of attacking action for both sides.
The Terps went on to record four shots in the opening frame. Yet for all its attacking endeavor, though, Meharg’s squad couldn’t get past goalkeeper Aaliyah Hernandez, who made two saves to shut out the Terps in the frame.
“We opened up and took [three] shots in the first five minutes,” Meharg said. “But they weren’t clinical, they weren’t tactical. There weren’t people sitting in spots like there were in the third and fourth quarter.”
Ohio State’s attack also proved equally lively in the first, getting its just rewards five minutes into the first. After earning a penalty corner, defender Whitney Harris fired a low, driven shot into the bottom right corner of the cage.
“That first corner goal by Whitney Harris, it was clinical, it was phenomenal,” Meharg said. “It had us on our heels.”
Buoyed by their early goal, the Buckeyes added to their lead late in the first, with midfielder Esther Clotet Alsina taking aim from well beyond the 23-meter line. Forward Sarah Charley stepped in front of midfielder Nathalie Fiechter, though, getting the vital touch to redirect the ball and send it trickling beyond goalkeeper Noelle Frost.
After such a high-intensity start, it was inevitable that the game was going to slow down, with both sides taking on a far more pragmatic approach in the second. Maryland posted the only shot of the frame — a penalty corner effort that Hernandez saved comfortably — meaning Ohio State entered halftime with a two-goal advantage.
After going six periods without a goal, it was clear the Terps needed more on the offensive end, especially after numerous turnovers caused by overdribbling.
“You’re responsible for playing the brand of hockey that you know you can play,” Meharg said. “This is the second game in a row where we’ve put ourselves in a lot of pressure because we’re choosing to dribble first.”
So, Maryland upped the tempo, using its possession-based tactics to create a number of odd-man rushes. Two minutes into the new half, the strategy paid dividends.
Midfielder Kelee Lepage found some open space on the left flank and snapped a shot past Hernandez, setting the stage for an incredible second-half display by the Terps.
“You could definitely feel the energy starting in the second half and leading to that goal,” forward Emma DeBerdine said. “It definitely was a good feeling, and we knew we were in the game.”
Buckeyes midfielder Emma Goldean brought the Buckeyes’ two-goal lead back less than a minute after Lepage’s goal, but the Terps were undeterred, making a series of dangerous runs into Ohio State’s shooting circle and increasing the frequency of their shot attempts.
And it paid off, with DeBerdine, Donraadt, and Madison Maguire combining for five goals in the last two quarters to sink the Buckeyes and inch the Terps closer toward clinching outright possession of the vaunted No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.
“It’s so great for postseason. When you can come back from 2-0 and then find a way to score like that,” Meharg said. “There’s a lot of messages for the team that you have the will, collectively.”