Riley Donnelly collected a pass just past midfield from Ericka Morris-Adams and immediately turned her attention to the goal cage during the third quarter of Maryland field hockey’s 7-2 win over Michigan State Sunday.

Donnelly maneuvered around one defender to find an opening just inside the shooting circle. With enough room to operate, she fired a shot at Spartans goalie Monique Jardell, whose view was obstructed by a crowded circle. The ball flew past Jardell and other defenders before it caught the back corner of the net.

The score extended the Terps’ lead to 5-0. But for Donnelly, it meant more than a goal scored with the game virtually decided.

It was the graduate student’s first goal of the season after starting her first game of the season.

Donnelly has been dealing with two separate injuries dating back to last season, coach Missy Meharg said. Entering Sunday, she played in six of Maryland’s nine games. She sat for the Terps’ first two games of the year against Drexel and Stanford before making her season debut against Boston College in the Big Ten/ACC Cup.

[No. 3 Maryland field hockey eases past Michigan State, 7-2]

In early September, she was also absent in Maryland’s bout with Harvard, then the Terps’ highest ranked opponent.

“She’s coming along, she’s getting a lot of sustained minutes,” Meharg said. “Now, we’re just working on her physiology and [getting] her back to game shape.”

Donnelly’s injuries haven’t kept her completely sidelined, but they have limited her ability to play. She’s 16th on the team in time played through 10 games with 105 minutes.

The injuries, Meharg said, began late last season. A hip issue came up during the 2021 campaign. Despite it, she played in every game throughout Maryland’s postseason run to the Final Four.

Last offseason was a busy one for Donnelly. She took time off following the end of the college season before participating in the Junior World Cup in the spring. She took another extended break from the field after returning home and before the start of this season. Then, her knee began bothering her.

“It started last year really,” Meharg said. “She had some hip stuff, so she had to take time off. She went to the Junior World Cup and when she got back, she took a huge break. After that … she had a little bit of a knee issue on the other side.”

[Leah Crouse’s goal lifts No. 3 Maryland field hockey past No. 8 Michigan in overtime, 1-0]

Donnelly returning to the fold full time brings a fourth graduate student to the Terps’ experienced lineup as Maryland enters the heart of its Big Ten schedule.

Bibi Donraadt, who calls Donnelly her best friend, also returned for a fifth and final season. Danielle van Rootselaar and Leah Crouse each came as graduate transfer students looking to exhaust their remaining eligibility in College Park.

“Riley has been a major impact player and student athlete for our program for four years,’ Meharg said. “To make the decision to take her COVID year and delay her graduation is a big one.”

Donnelly getting her first start since 2021 is a step in the right direction for the defender’s recovery. Playing without limitations for the first time since last season, she makes for another weapon Meharg can throw at opposing offenses alongside an already vaunted backfield.

With eight games remaining before the postseason kicks off for her to get fully back into playing shape, younger players will lean on Donnelly and her playoff experience.

“I’m definitely feeling stronger each game, which is really exciting,” Donnelly said. “It’s been hard to be patient, but I think being patient has paid off.”