Maryland and Liberty were tied at one goal apiece through four quarters and an overtime period in the opening round of the NCAA field hockey tournament. The Terps earned a penalty stroke early in the second overtime, a chance to finally end the game.
Coach Missy Meharg sent Riley Donnelly to the line to take it. Before she jogged to the spot, Bibi Donraadt pulled her aside to offer words of encouragement.
“I know you can do this,” Donraadt recalled saying.
Donnelly scored, sending the Terps to a battle with Syracuse two days later with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The game reached shootouts following a 2-2 tie after two overtimes.
Donraadt was chosen as one of Maryland’s five shooters. Now, it became Donnelly’s turn to get Donraadt ready.
“I have so much confidence in you,” Donnelly told Donraadt.
She scored to split the shootout 2-2 with the Orange before Hope Rose notched the game winner in the sudden death period.
Quick boosts such as those have been commonplace for Donnelly and Donraadt over the past five years. As teammates and best friends, they know what the other needs and when they need it.
“We know what makes each other tick and how to get the best out of each other,” Donnelly said.
The duo will be playing in their second consecutive and third total Final Four. The only thing they’ve yet to accomplish together is winning a championship, which they can do with two more wins Friday and Sunday.
“You want to stay here so you can put your team in position to win championships,” Meharg said. “They’re here to get a job done.”
As graduate students and in their fifth year with the team, Donnelly and Donraadt are Maryland’s oldest and most experienced players. They’re the only ones remaining from the 2018 season, the last time the Terps reached a championship game.
Donraadt scored the game-winning goal in the semifinal to get them there before they ultimately fell to North Carolina.
Both enjoyed success and made an immediate impact as first-year players. Donnelly started every game in 2018 and Donraadt, that season’s Big Ten freshman of the year, led the team with 15 goals.
“When first-year players come into the program and they’re playing in championship matches, you know they’re going to be there for the long haul,” Meharg said.
The experience they accrued from a deep postseason run is paying dividends now.
Donnelly and Donraadt have taken on leadership roles over the past few weeks. The magnitude of the Final Four was the element the two were most surprised by as freshmen, and it’s what they’re trying to prepare this year’s crop of new players for.
“We’re the only two that know what that’s like,” Donnelly said.
“As leaders and people who have been here longer, you can definitely take care of stuff like that,” Donraadt said.
The 2018 season was also when the teammates’ friendship began. Donnelly took Donraadt “under her wing,” the latter said. The culture shock that came with the move from the Netherlands to the U.S., on top of knowing almost no one, made Donnelly’s friendship even more important to Donraadt.
They quickly realized they had a great deal in common with each other: their love for field hockey and academic ambitions aligned.
“We’re a perfect fit,” Donraadt said.
Getting the periodic escape from field hockey comes easy for them. Cooking, binge-watching TV shows and attending other Maryland sports games take up most of their free time, and it strengthens a chemistry that translates nicely to the pitch.
Donnelly and Donraadt warm up together before every game because they know what the other needs to get prepared, resulting in an understanding of each other’s tendencies, such as where they might be on the field and how they prefer to receive the ball.
The duo worked together to score three goals in the regular season. Donnelly scored a goal that was assisted by Donraadt in wins over Indiana, Georgetown and Virginia. They also both scored three goals in Maryland’s 11-0 win over the Hoyas, the only time this season two Terps tallied hat tricks in the same game.
“We can help each other get into the best possible mindset for the game,” Donraadt said. “We’ve had a lot of pretty Riley-Bibi, Bibi-Riley goals.”
The graduate students have a semifinal match with Northwestern ahead of them, but reflecting on their five-year careers seeps into their thoughts occasionally, especially as the season nears its conclusion.
They’ve played each game in recent weeks like it could be their last. Friday and Sunday’s narrow wins easily could have been the duo’s final time playing together.
Tuesday’s practice was their last in College Park before they departed for Storrs, Connecticut, on Wednesday. It served as the latest of last experiences of activities that were so frequent over the past half decade.
“I’ve definitely … taken some time for reflection, but also just trying to focus on what’s ahead of us and the time that we still do have left,” Donnelly said. “I’m really just loving this time that we have together.”
Donnelly and Donraadt each had decisions to make after the 2021 season: graduate and move on or return and take advantage of the extra eligibility granted to them.
They both leaned toward staying without knowing what the other wanted. After discussing it together and discovering they were in agreement, the decision became easy.
“We probably wanted to but then knowing that each other wanted to as well, it was like, ‘OK, now it’s a no brainer,’” Donnelly said.
Winning a championship is the ultimate goal for any player. For Donnelly and Donraadt, it’s a large reason why they came back to Maryland. Doing it together, in possibly their last seasons ever playing field hockey with each other, is the final thing the best friends still have to achieve.
“It’s the big cherry on our cake,” Donraadt said.