By: Max Marcilla
The Maryland Terrapins’ attempt to capture the outright Big Ten title got off to a rough start against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
But after overcoming a 1-0 deficit and tying the game at one at the half, the Terps came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders en route to a 4-2 victory.
“[At] halftime, I just said ‘whatever that team was just out there right now, let’s just pretend we don’t know them, and let’s just move on the play Maryland hockey’,” head coach Missy Meharg said.
Rutgers (9-8, 2-6 Big Ten) struck first by sneaking a ball past Terps goalkeeper Sarah Bates, the seventh time in 18 games that Maryland has allowed its opponent to score first. But as they have done throughout the entire season, the Terrapins responded quickly.
Five minutes after Rachel Yaney gave the Scarlet Knights the lead, Maryland’s Grace Balsdon flipped a phenomenal behind-the-back pass to Carrie Hanks, who capitalized with her second goal of the season.
“It’s a set play we do a lot,” Meharg said. “Grace is so powerful with her drag that the people who are putting pressure on her are going to get as close as they can. She just shifts it and puts it behind her and it’s just really hard to read.”
However, the Terps struggled to gain separation on their Big Ten counterpart from up north, and the game was tied at one entering halftime. But once the clock reset and the Scarlet Knights’ switched goalkeepers, the Terrapins played the brand of field hockey that helped them defeat five top-10 opponents this season.
Just 11 seconds into the second half, Welma Luus scored her team-leading 14th goal of the season. Under six minutes later, Kelee Lepage extended the lead to 3-1.
“Any goal is always important to give you that edge,” Luus said. “Grace threw a great overhead, way over everyone’s heads, and Sophie [Pelzer] got there really fast… Just really nice to put some goals on the board.”
While Luus, who was honored before the game as a part of Maryland’s Senior Day ceremony, broke the tie, it was the Terps underclassmen that stole the show in the regular season finale.
“I always believe in reloading,” Meharg said. “[The underclassmen are] wonderful women, very tough, mentally tough, very confident, can be very intimidating. They’re good players before they come and they get to be better while they’re here.”
Madison Maguire added another Maryland goal as the Terps topped the Scarlet Knights for the 11th consecutive time.
The Terrapins wrapped up the regular season with a 15-3 record, 7-1 against Big Ten foes, but their work is far from over. As the first seed in the Big Ten tournament and the No. 3 team in the country, have lofty expectations for the postseason.
“Me personally, as a coach, I like the fact that the Big Ten has regular season champions,” Meharg said. “But to me, it’s about tournaments. I’m just so eager to prepare these women for the Big Ten tournament here and hopefully the NCAA tournament.
On Thursday, the Terps will face Rutgers again in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in College Park. The home-field advantage bodes well for the Terps, who have notched at least two goals in each game at the Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex this season. Furthermore, they have won 33-of-34 games against Big Ten opponents.