When Missy Meharg recruited Boukje Vermeulen in the Netherlands, little did she realize she was importing the future Atlantic Coast Conference field hockey player of the year.
Meharg, Maryland's coach, was playing with a U.S. team in a Netherlands tournament four years ago when she spotted Vermeulen, then still in high school. Unlike in this country, where girls generally aren't introduced to field hockey until high school, Netherlands youngsters get their first exposure much earlier.
Vermeulen was 7 when she first picked up a field hockey stick. Upon arriving here, her skills and experience were beyond those of your typical Maryland freshman.
Vermeulen told Meharg she simply wanted to get out of her country for a while and would stay at Maryland for one year. She is staying for two, long enough to be acclaimed the ACC player of the year.
"I'm here for fun and I'm taking one year at a time," Vermeulen said. "I'm an accounting major, but they don't offer the international type of accounting system I need in order to work back home."
So Meharg is enjoying her gift from the Netherlands one day at a time. The sophomore midfielder is the centerpiece of the Maryland team that will plunge into the NCAA tournament this weekend.
As the fourth seed behind No. 1 Old Dominion, No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 North Carolina, the Terps (15-4-1) drew a first-round bye and will play the winner of the Stanford-Iowa match Sunday (1 p.m.) in a quarterfinal on Maryland's AstroTurf field. The Final Four will be held Nov. 23-24 at Villanova.
Maryland has been among college field hockey's elite since the mid-1970s, invariably finishing in the Top 10. Sue Tyler coached the team from 1974-87, directing the Terps to the national title in 1987 and then turning over the team to Meharg.
One thing the Terps never have been able to do is beat North Carolina for the ACC title. Even in 1987, when they won the national title, they lost to the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament.
"It's tough to beat a good team twice in the same season," said Tyler, now an associate athletic director. "In 1987, we beat North Carolina during the regular season, lost to them in the ACCs and won the national championship by beating them in the final. This year we beat Carolina here, then lost to them in the ACC final last Sunday."
Meharg spent five weeks this fall in New Zealand with the U.S. national team that was competing in a qualifier for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The U.S. team failed to qualify, so Meharg is back, rejoining Dawn Hill, her co-coach this season.
"Just about everybody involved with the team believed we had a shot at the national title," Hill said. "It can be hard to live up to expectations, but it does develop confidence."
Hill was brought in specifically to serve as co-coach while Meharg was away. It could have been a ticklish situation, with leadership divid ed, but apparently it hasn't been.
"The team knew Missy would be gone but saw its own potential," said administrative assistant Linda Sharpless. "It's a focused group that worked hard during the offseason. Missy and Dawn have cooperated with each other. Considering the success to this point, the team adjusted well."
Leading scorer Lisa Rowe is one of nine Terp players from Pennsylvania, a field hockey hotbed, but the squad is otherwise a diverse group. There are four women from Virginia and one each from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Only three are from Maryland.
The No. 1 goalie, freshman Irene Horvat, is from Australia. The No. 3 scorer, sophomore Sabrina Salam, is from Germany. The No. 2 scorer is the field hockey jewel from the Netherlands, Miss Vermeulen.