As Maryland field hockey players filtered into the locker room to get changed and ready themselves for the torrential conditions they were set to face, members of the coaching staff stood outside the glass door, eyes locked on the Terps’ emerald-green pitch — littered with puddles as rain poured with increasing intensity.
When Missy Meharg’s squad finally sauntered onto the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex turf for its daily practice, it was greeted with damp hair, irritated eyes and sopping clothing.
But when Maryland takes on Michigan State on Friday, it will instead be welcomed by warm faces and vociferous cheers — a constant in what has been a highly successful campaign for the Terps so far.
While Maryland has impressed on the pitch this season, the team has noticed the energy off it, as well. The Terps’ fanbase has shown up in droves — the UConn game boasted the highest attendance since joining the Big Ten. And for Maryland’s players, there’s energy to be drawn from that crowd.
“Some of these matchups have felt like old ACC times,” Meharg said. “To have that type of attendance … we’re getting that sense of Maryland field hockey as a Big Ten powerhouse.”
The Terps have always had strong support — a perk of its sustained success under Meharg — holding an average announced home attendance of 509 last year. But in 2019, the crowd has grown to nearly 600 attendees per home game.
The difference in crowd size has been noticeable, with the raucous flock of Maryland fans providing constant encouragement in arduous home victories over top-10 teams Virginia, Princeton, Iowa and UConn — the last of which saw 1,223 attendees.
“Clearly the community and the family and the fans and administration and the sports world know a great matchup,” Meharg said Oct. 8. “It’s really nice that a game of the quality of a Maryland-UConn brings those numbers. It used to be [that way] when Maryland would play North Carolina here, you’d see numbers here like that. … That [game] felt like that.”
Much of the positive energy stems from the familial atmosphere surrounding the field hockey program — something best displayed by players’ families and their commitment to attending home games.
“Sometimes you run by and you can hear [your] parents … cheering for you,” forward Jen Bleakney said earlier in the season. “It kind of hypes you up.”
Even hours before the game, the atmosphere is electric. Players’ families hosting tailgates in front of the stadium entrance. It’s a welcoming environment — one where parents’ conversations about the team and its success are interrupted only by the sizzling sound of hot links searing on the grill.
Once the game begins, though, it’s younger supporters who dominate the processions, many of who aspire to reach the same level as the players on the pitch.
“Just to have them cheering your name, asking for your autograph,” forward Madison Maguire said earlier this season, “it makes you want to play even harder for them.”
Locally-based players such as Bleakney and goalkeeper Noelle Frost noted how valuable it was to come to Terps games growing up, so it’s unsurprising it’s the youngsters who typically represent the most passionate of supporters.
“It’s nice to see everyone out there — the high schools, the younger girls — coming for the support,” forward Lizzy Dessoye said. “We love that, we love seeing them here. Our fans are definitely a big part of our accomplishments here, too.”
So when Maryland zipped the ball across the rain-soaked field, it did so knowing its fans will be there in full force on Friday, hoping to push the Terps to another Big Ten victory in their last conference test before the Big Ten tournament.
“We love Maryland, we love the fans,” midfielder Brooke DeBerdine said earlier this season. “We appreciate them so much, and we get our energy from them.”