In the 77th minute of play, Northwestern freshman Olivia Bent-Cole accelerated up the right endline of the field. In one swift motion, Bent-Cole crossed the ball over to her left before slicing a ground shot past the outstretched arm of Maryland keeper Alyssa Klebasko that whizzed straight into the back of the net.
The golden goal served as the double-overtime dagger for No. 1 Northwestern (first seed), as the No. 8 Terps (third seed) fell 1-0 to the Wildcats in the Big Ten Tournament Championship.
The Terps’ defense showed up big once again to open, silencing the Wildcats throughout the first quarter. Just two minutes into the match, Klebasko collected her first save of the day – a diving block off of a shot by Northwestern’s Peyton Halsey.
Thanks to great on-ball perimeter pressure from captains Rayne Wright and Maura Verleg, Maryland held the Wildcats to just one shot attempted in the next ten minutes of play.
“Our one-on-one defenders are so gritty,” head coach Missy Meharg stressed. “When we set [Northwestern] up and made [pressure and] tackles outside the circle, we were super successful.”
Then, in the final moments of the quarter, Klebasko struck once more, making her presence known. Graduate student Alia Marshall inserted a penalty corner pass to freshman Ilse Tromp. After sizing up the defense, Tromp powered a shot towards the goal. In one swift motion, Klebasko anticipated the ball, quickly shifting over to intercept the shot.
Then, a rebound by junior Lane Herbert provided the Wildcats with another look inside the shooting circle. But Klebasko blocked the shot yet again, recording her third save in the opening period alone.
The defensive masterclass continued throughout the second quarter, as the Terps limited Northwestern to zero combined goals, shots on goal, and shots attempted in the entire period.
Maryland’s first penalty corner opportunity – and best look in the half – arrived in the final minute of the period. Per usual, Margot Lawn took her position in the corner, inserting the ball in play. After receiving the pass and steadying the ball, Verleg lined a straight shot. But after a tough last-second block by a Northwestern defender, time expired with both teams entering the half gridlocked at zeros.
Maryland attempted just one shot in the third quarter – a look for junior Hope Rose that came up short on a block by Wildcats’ keeper Annabel Skubisz. However, it wouldn’t matter, as Klebasko resumed her career game, putting on a show once more by recording three textbook saves in just the third period.
A back-and-forth fourth quarter provided Northwestern with numerous opportunities and looks near the net. But the Wildcats couldn’t convert on any, as the Terps’ defense held strong, pressuring the opposing offense to impact three Wildcats’ shots – all of which went wide out of bounds.
Both teams finished with zeros to their name as the buzzer sounded to end regulation, serving as the third time in Big Ten field hockey history that a championship match would be decided in extra minutes.
The Wildcats dominated nearly every possession in the first overtime period, collecting six penalty corner opportunities along the way – and eventually 22 corners in the full match. But per usual, the Terps picked up stop after stop, holding Northwestern scoreless. A diving block by Wright concluded the overtime period, setting up a thrilling double-overtime.
Finally, in the 77th minute of play, the Wildcats broke through with the game-winner – courtesy of Bent-Cole – to secure their second Big Ten Tournament title, ending the game in heartbreak for the Terps.
“It was a lot of speed coming at us,” Meharg said of Bent-Cole and the Wildcats’ overall attack. “The thing about Northwestern is the speed at which ball carriers bring the ball into. Just really nice skill by [Bent-Cole] to finish on the baseline.”
Even with the loss, Maryland still maintains an impressive 16-5 record on the season, while holding a 19-15 all-time series lead over Northwestern.
“We had chances to win this game and raise the trophy, but [things] just didn’t go our way,” said Meharg. “But I love the way this team gives 100% of what they have, [whether] it be emotionally, physically, or mentally.”
The Terps’ season is far from over, as they now begin their quest for a national championship, turning their attention to this Sunday’s Selection Show – where they’ll find out potential opponents, dates, and locations for the upcoming nationwide NCAA Tournament.
“Super excited about the reality that we’ll be in the NCAA Tournament,” emphasized Meharg. “We now have something else to look forward to.”