For No. 7 Terps, loss had an upside UM got down to business after rout by Old Dominion

College Field Hockey

November 06, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

With a load of new members, the University of Maryland's field hockey team has been picking up lessons all season while earning a 14-5 record and a No. 7 national ranking. But the most important one might have been the one imparted from a tough defeat at top-ranked Old Dominion on Oct. 8.

Since then, the Terrapins have rattled off seven wins in a row heading into the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament this weekend in Charlottesville, Va. As the second seed in the tournament, their opponent at noon today is North Carolina, a team they dominated three weeks ago in College Park, 5-0.

The victory over the Tar Heels came three days after Maryland had absorbed a 7-0 lashing from Old Dominion, which Terrapins coach Missy Meharg said "gave us the momentum to understand what national contention is all about."

Throughout the year, older players such as Centennial graduate Emily Ward, a junior forward, have learned how to interact with the new ones, and vice versa, while the team has learned a new offense.

What it hadn't learned until the Old Dominion game was the consequence of flat play, a lesson the Monarchs were all too glad to dispense.

"[Old Dominion] had an incredible night and we played poorly," Meharg said. "The game taught us emotionally how to play. It gave us a great opportunity."

"There was so much more that we knew we could play up to," said senior back Jen Pratt, who leads the team in assists with 18. "We realized that we didn't want to get beat 7-0 every day."

After a short time to reflect, the Terps made the turn and haven't looked back.

Maryland failed to make the NCAA tournament with its last young team, in 1994. With 11 newcomers among the 22 this season, Meharg has managed to keep it together with the help of captains Pratt, Keli Smith and Carla Tagliente.

She has done this despite installing a new attack that uses five forwards instead of the conventional three, and nearly half of the starters this year were unfamiliar with the system because they are new. In a sense, there was an advantage to this, Meharg said. "You don't have to worry about habit and it gives you more flexibility."

Most important has been the melding of such freshmen as fullback Autumn Welsh, who has become one of the team's most important defensive players, with such veterans as Pratt and Tagliente, who earned All-America honors when Maryland advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals last year.

"We now have a lot of confidence in each other," Pratt said. "It took awhile for us to get used to each other, but now it seems like we've been playing [together] for a couple of years."

This weekend has potholes aplenty. Including the Terps, all of the teams are ranked in the ACC, the nation's toughest conference for field hockey.

There's No. 2 Virginia, the regular-season champion and top seed. Then there's No. 4 North Carolina, the three-time defending national titlist, which is seeded third. And Maryland, which barely lost to the Cavaliers and whipped the Tar Heels.

Adding No. 20 Wake Forest, which beat No. 13 Duke, 3-2, in double overtime yesterday, made the tourney a tough one to call for Meharg.

"I wouldn't say that anyone's the favorite at this point," she said. "I think Maryland's the favorite. That's how we see it."

ACC tournament

At Charlottesville, Va.

Seeds in parentheses

Quarterfinal: Yesterday

Wake Forest (4) 3, Duke (5) 2

Semifinals: Today

Maryland (2) vs. N.C. (3), noon

Virginia (1) vs. Wake Forest, 2: 30

Championship: Sunday

Semifinal winners, 3: 30

Pub Date: 11/06/98

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