Three takeaways from Maryland field hockey’s Big Ten tournament letdown vs. Penn State

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)

While Maryland field hockey retreated to the locker room after its shock 1-0 defeat to No. 5-seeded Penn State on Friday, the Nittany Lions raced to the center of the pitch, hoping to envelop goalkeeper Brie Barraco in a cacophony of noise.

The redshirt freshman had been the standout performer in a gutsy team performance, repeatedly diving across the goalmouth to quell a potent Maryland attack that came into Friday’s matchup averaging just over 3 goals per game. Barraco made eight saves, the seventh time she has notched eight or more stops in a game this season.

For the Nittany Lions (8-11) — a team that started the season with seven straight losses — the victory is momentous, putting them within one game of sealing an unlikely NCAA tournament appearance.

As for the Terps (16-3), the defeat is the latest in a string of frustrating displays, with coach Missy Meharg’s squad often dominating possession and shot totals but lacking the attacking edge to break down compact defenses in recent weeks.

Here are three takeaways from Friday’s Big Ten Field Hockey Tournament defeat.

Road woes continue

The Terps have impressed at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in recent years, reeling off a streak of 23 straight home victories that stretches back to 2017.

And this season has been no exception, averaging 4 goals per game at home and recording victories against four top-10 teams in College Park.

[Read more: Penn State stuns top-seeded Maryland field hockey in Big Ten semifinals, 1-0]

All three of Maryland’s defeats have come on the road, though, with Meharg’s squad struggling to recreate its fluid attacking play away from home — its goal per game average drops to 2.11 in its nine away games.

On Friday, the Nittany Lions’ forwards dropped back in an effort to reduce the space Maryland’s creative players had to work with. The tactic kept the Terps out of the shooting circle, stymieing their attack and forcing them to take long-range efforts — efforts which Barraco handled easily.

And without the backing of the raucous Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex crowd, Meharg’s squad was unable to find a breakthrough.

Madison Maguire makes her presence felt

Forward Madison Maguire, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, has been a force in Maryland’s attack, scoring 12 goals and adding 10 assists.

And despite the Terps’ offensive struggles, the forward continued to make her presence felt, recording five shots — more than any other player on the pitch.

Early in the opening frame, Maguire crept into the shooting circle and rifled a shot toward the roof of the cage. Barraco flashed her pad, though, pushing the ball out of the area.

[Read more: Hampered by injury, Kyler Greenwalt has still been a key cog for Maryland field hockey]

As the game progressed, Penn State keyed in on Maguire, rushing toward the senior when she would drift into the circle and flashing across the goalmouth to block her shots.

Still, the senior continued to press on, forcing Barraco into another save midway through the fourth.

And she looked to have finally found a breakthrough deep in the final frame, squirting the ball out of Barraco’s grasp before rifling it into the net.

But forward Bibi Donraadt was judged to have fouled Barraco in the build-up to the goal, knocking the goal off the board.

Shift to a shortened bench fails to make a difference

The Terps have relied on their depth throughout the season, with their high-intensity style of play requiring constant freshness and energy. As a result, Maryland often would finish regular-season games with 17 or 18 players seeing the field.

Meharg chose to roll with a shortened bench on Friday, though, as forwards Kyler Greenwalt, Jen Bleakney and Mayv Clune were the only players to come off the bench.

Likely a consequence of Penn State’s early goal and pragmatic style of play, the Terps seemed to prioritize fluidity in the final third. And with midfielders Linda Cobano, Brooke DeBerdine and Kelee Lepage proving capable of logging heavy minutes throughout the season, it looked as if the move was going to pay off.

However, as the Terps’ offensive struggles persisted, Meharg’s decision to carry on with a shortened bench was unexpected — especially after relying on digging deep into Maryland’s talent pool throughout the season.

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