COLLEGE PARK -- A few weeks after Irene Horvat left her native Australia and set foot on Maryland's campus, she was given a towering assignment.
On Sept. 14, in Maryland's fourth field hockey game of the season, the freshman goalie from Down Under found Old Dominion bearing down on her. That's Old Dominion as in defending national champion.
Old Dominion is the flower of college field hockey. When the Monarchs brushed aside North Carolina by the obscene score of 5-0 in last year's final, it was their fifth title in the past 10 years and seventh appearance in the championship game.
The Terps held their own in that September game against Old Dominion, losing, 3-2. Now for the rematch, tomorrow in the semifinals of the Final Four at Villanova Stadium.
After No. 4 Maryland (16-4-1) takes on top-seeded, undefeated (24-0) Old Dominion at noon, No. 2 Penn State (18-1-1) will play No. 3 North Carolina (14-5-1) at 2:30 p.m. The consolation game is Sunday at noon, followed by the championship final at 2:30 p.m.
Although Horvat, at 21, is an "old" freshman, she was nervous before her first encounter with Old Dominion.
"I was a little intimidated because I had been told a lot about them," she said. "But we were very competitive and they quickly lost the aura I thought they had. They weren't as good as I thought. They're beatable."
After Old Dominion took a 2-0 advantage before Maryland so much as got off a shot, the Terps stormed back to tie.
"We weren't intimidated," said Maryland co-coach Dawn Hill. "We were down 2-0, but hung tough and stepped it up a notch. We were right there. The score could have easily been 3-2 in our favor."
After graduating from high school in Australia, Horvat was working full time as a computer operator to support herself while she played hockey. It was then that Missy Meharg entered her life. Meharg, Maryland's other co-coach, was playing with the U.S. team in Australia when she spotted Horvat.
"Until Missy put the idea in my head, I hadn't thought about going to college in the U.S.," Horvat said.
Quickly, she made her presence felt. The only Atlantic Coast Conference goalie with a goals-against average of under 1.0, Horvat has a school-record 12 shutouts. She allowed one goal in last Sunday's win over Iowa that put the Terps in the Final Four.
On the eve of the Final Four, it is fitting that one Terp, Lisa Rowe, is in Sports Illustrated's Faces In The Crowd this week.
One of nine Maryland players from Pennsylvania, the junior co-captain is the ACC's points leader with 23.
"Being in Sports Illustrated is a great honor," Rowe said. "But the reason for it is that the team has been so successful."
Rowe played in the U.S. Olympic Festival in Los Angeles last summer. And now, a place in Sports Illustrated. Tomorrow, a victory over mighty Old Dominion?