This Friday, No. 9 Maryland (12-3) plays its most anticipated match so far this season, as they return home to College Park to take on No. 5 Iowa (12-2).
The Terps moved up one spot in the NFHCA national rankings after a perfect 2-0 week – capturing key wins over now No. 15 ranked Michigan and No. 10 ranked Ohio State, respectively.
A big theme this season, as seen in both matches last weekend, is early success. Maryland’s outscored opponents 14-2 in the first quarter this season, with 11 of the 14 goals scored within the opening six minutes of games.
“I love that fact, because it hasn’t been a key theme for Maryland historically,” said head coach Missy Meharg. “Half of it is preparation, and the girls are very clear on what the plan is. It’s [also] belief…we’ve got leaders that want to step up on the field and play.”
But the Iowa Hawkeyes dominated teams as well, winning nine consecutive games to open the season and holding the No. 1 ranking for four out of the seven total weeks.
At the helm for the Hawkeyes offensively is freshman Dionne van Aalsum. The Netherlands native leads the country in goals per game (1.79) and points per game (3.86). In addition, van Aalsum holds the top spot in the Big Ten conference for individual shots (85), shots on goal (58), goals scored (25), game-winning goals scored (7), total points (54), and sits at 18th in total assists (4).
“We’re going to have to stop her early and make sure she doesn’t get any good looks,” Meharg stressed. “She’s scored in big games, [as seen] when she got two against Louisville.”
Keeper Mia Magnotta leads Iowa on the defensive end, helping to deliver shutout wins in eight of the team’s opening 14 games. The redshirt sophomore has started every game in goal for the Hawkeyes and is fourth and fifth in the country in save percentage (.827) and goalie win-loss percentage (.917), respectively.
But even through strong individual performances, Iowa has struggled in its first five games of conference-play as they remain just above .500 with a 3-2 conference record and rank second in the conference in goals allowed (9).
On the flip side, the Terps are peaking at just the right time, as they head into Friday winners of four-straight Big Ten conference matches.
Keeper Alyssa Klebasko marks the surprise of the season for Maryland. Though just a freshman, Klebasko leads the country in save percentage (.885) and goalie win-loss percentage (1.000). After a career-high eight saves last weekend against Michigan, Klebasko looks to continue her domination against the Hawkeyes’ dynamic offense.
In addition to Klebasko, contributions from Ericka Morris-Adams, Hannah Boss (ranks fifth in Big Ten defensive saves), Josie Hollamon (ranks sixth in Big Ten defensive saves), and team captains Maura Verleg and Rayne Wright, quickly turned the Terps into a defensive powerhouse.
Coach Meharg stressed the importance of continuing to play at this elite level, both defensively and offensively, against the Hawkeyes.
“Connectivity, midfield play, the linking of the backfield to the midfield to the forward line,” Meharg listed as themes to focus on. “[We need] to make sure that we sprint together as a unit so we have counter-defense control…just making [the game] simple.”
Finally, Margot Lawn continues to be an instant impact threat offensively for the Terps. The Maryland native leads the team in assists with nine, and ranks second in the Big Ten, averaging .600 assists per game.
Lawn’s second-to-last home game of her collegiate career comes this Friday, as Maryland looks to win their sixth straight match and continue to build their resume heading into the final stretch of the season.
“I want to thank [the fans] for being there for us,” Lawn emphasized. “Just being from Maryland and playing at Maryland is an unreal experience. So to have my last two home games be here with my teammates, it’s amazing.”