Sammy Popper is no stranger to the spontaneity that occurs on the field hockey pitch.
Halfway through the first quarter of Maryland’s match against Michigan, the Terps set up for a penalty corner. Popper stood at the top of the shooting circle, but she was not supposed to get the insert. The pass was meant to go elsewhere.
Despite the call, Margot Lawn positioned herself toward Popper.
“Margot I guess misheard the call… but it was too late to do anything,” Popper said.
Lawn fired the insert at the top of the circle where Ericka Morris-Adams stopped it. Without hesitation, Popper launched the ball into the net for the Terps’ first and only score of the game.
“Sometimes the plays you mess up end up being the best goals,” Popper said. “You don’t overthink it and you just do what you know how to do.”
Popper, a graduate student playing her final season of collegiate field hockey, transferred after three seasons at Princeton. After scoring a goal in each of her first three games as a Terp, Popper’s recent run of four goals in four games has lifted Maryland during its seven-game winning streak — its longest of the season.
As a Tiger, Popper faced a similarly daunting schedule compared to Maryland’s every season. But for a three-game streak in mid-October, she was in uncharted territory.
Popper never faced American, Michigan or Ohio State in her career. Over the past two weeks, she got the chance to face and succeed against new competition.
The Princeton transfer more than doubled her goals this year over the course of four Maryland wins. Two of Popper’s four finishes in the Terps’ victories against American, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa were game-winners.
“Sam is a beautiful field hockey player,” Missy Meharg said. “The decision to play a COVID year … she’s going to have no regrets.”
Popper finds spontaneity helps her in game-like situations. It makes her feel like a kid again, she said. When she lacked experience, she stuck to a plan. But as Popper grew, so did her confidence to make her own decisions on the field.
“Before the American game, I told myself that I wanted to play like I was at an open scrimmage at my club when I was 13,” Popper said. “That was when I felt like I would always be at my best, when I was just focusing on having fun.”
Hope Rose is a player on the front line who Popper leans on when tapping into her field hockey knowledge. With Rose — the Terps’ top goalscorer and a consistent attacking threat — at Popper’s disposal, she does not only have the courage to attack the goal herself, but a teammate she trusts at her side.
“There are also moments where you just have to read the situation,” Popper said. “You’ll click with a teammate and you’ll have a passing combination that you both just kind of can read each other and that’s what is happening in the moment.”