Each time Hope Rose and Maryland field hockey discuss their plan for the team’s Big Ten opener against undefeated No. 6 Rutgers on Thursday, they have a consistent mantra: Come out strong.

The Terps often begin their games with early scores and quick attacks on net. Those assertive openings will be necessary to continue their historic success against a resurgent Scarlet Knights program.

Maryland coach Missy Meharg noted that variables outside her team’s control, such as weather or officiating, could lead to slow starts. But she emphasized the importance of having consistent pregame warmups and routines to immediately get and maintain possession.

“Rutgers has a tendency to play into [its] backfield quite a lot and that’ll be something right from the beginning to get on the front foot,” Meharg said. “We’d love to push them right back. Let’s push them back so that their center backs are playing the ball in the opening minutes.”

Maryland has scored first in seven of its nine games this season. Maci Bradford found the back of the net just over a minute into its 6-0 win against UC Davis. Margot Lawn notched the opening tally in just under six minutes into a 3-1 win over Yale.

[Maryland field hockey tops Virginia, 2-1, in final test before conference play]

Lawn also scored in the Terps’ last game, a 2-1 win over Virginia, tapping in a rebound early in the second quarter. Last year, she also scored the first goal for her team in Maryland’s 2022 4-3 win over Rutgers.

The Terps are 16-1 all-time against Rutgers but this year’s game could be tighter. The Scarlet Knights have already surpassed their total of eight wins last season with a roster stacked with international players.

Meharg highlighted junior midfielder Guillermina Causarano, calling her “dominant.” Rutgers’ captain leads the team with seven scores and 20 points this season.

The Scarlet Knights primarily attack to the right side of the field, forcing defenders to play on their backhand, according to Meharg. The coach wants her team to stay connected to combat that strategy and turn it into offensive opportunities.

“Our best team defense that we can play is to counter attack as one unit,” Meharg said. “There haven’t been a lot of teams that they’ve played against that we’ve watched that are really taking advantage of the chaos that Rutgers can present.”

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The Terps want to stay connected throughout the field, with possessions flowing from defenders through the midfield and to forwards, Rose said.

Maryland is ready for this conference test, Meharg said, forged by a challenging early-season slate. Her squad has already played three ranked teams, winning two of those battles.

Rutgers is merely the first challenge for Maryland as it competes in a loaded Big Ten. The Terps will play five more ranked teams after the Scarlet Knights. They face No. 16 Penn State Sunday and will also take on No. 1 Iowa and No. 3 Northwestern later this year.

Meharg is confident in her squad’s abilities in a journey that starts Thursday.

“They have a great team. We have a great team,” she said. “We’re getting better and better every day. We’ve got our units, everybody’s healthy and we’re in the space we’d like to be in right now.”