By thinking small, Terps manage big things

Focusing on moment pays for 20-1, No. 1 Maryland

Field Hockey

November 12, 1999|By Rupen Fofaria | Rupen Fofaria,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

COLLEGE PARK -- A victory tomorrow would advance the Maryland field hockey team to the spot where it was last year -- the quarterfinals of the NCAA championships. Two wins and the Terps would travel to Boston for the Final Four. Four wins and they might travel to Washington to meet the president.

But this is not an approach the Terps care to take. For sure, they know what the rewards are for winning four games, but to look that far in advance is to throw out everything that has brought them a 20-1 record, 18 straight wins and a No. 1 ranking to close out the season.

"We need to focus on ourselves rather than a win," junior forward Carla Tagliente said.

"Just win each moment, then each half, then the game will come. If you think too big, things get out of your control. That's the key -- focus on what you can control."

In coach Missy Meharg's 12th season, the Terps often have dominated opponents. They won their second consecutive ACC championship with an overtime victory over Wake Forest.

Tomorrow, they play in the first round of the NCAA tournament, hosting Lafayette at 11 a.m. at Artificial Turf Facility, with their confidence soaring almost as high as expectations.

But this team apparently feels little pressure. The Terps try to remember that looking ahead to victories, feeling expectations, losing focus contradict their philosophy. And that philosophy has been the key to victory.

The Terps don't approach games with a win in mind, for that would be 70 minutes premature. They try to win halves, and in winning halves they try to win minutes, and in winning minutes they try to win the moment.

So far this season, Maryland has controlled just about everything, tearing through a schedule that featured games with nine opponents that finished in the Top 20.

"When we came into the season, we never really made a plan for ourselves, never laid out a path," junior forward Keli Smith said. "We just picked it up as we played, and now we just focus on playing a certain way -- the Maryland way."

And what is the Maryland way?

"It's about focus," she said. "It's about focusing on the game, on yourself, on your teammates, on the moment. It's about playing the best you know you can play so that you are satisfied with yourself when you walk off the field. Let the wins come as they will."

Maryland scored a big victory even before the season started, when the preseason polls featured the Terps at the top -- just above last year's national champion, Old Dominion.

Although the women say the ranking never put pressure on them, it may have haunted them in another way.

The third game on the schedule took Maryland to Old Dominion, and though Meharg and her team agreed they played well, they lost, 5-3. Coach and players attributed the defeat to a mental breakdown.

"Instead of getting stronger when we made bad plays, we let emotions take over," Smith said. "Maybe we weren't all on the same page."

"The loss to ODU, well, we realized we needed to focus on our play," junior back Molly Kauffman said. "Forget the numbers and statistics. We need to play tough, mentally and physically."

The result: a school-record 18-game winning streak. In last weekend's victory over Wake Forest, the Terps again cited a mental breakdown. Judging from the way they responded, though, this likely means worse news for opponents than for Maryland.

"We were fortunate early in the season to learn from the loss to Old Dominion," Smith said. "And now, we were even more fortunate to have this reminder in the last game before the tournament starts.

"What's more is we were able to pull out the victory while learning the lesson. I think we'll work on that in practice and come out stronger."

NCAA field hockey

What: NCAA tournament, first round

Who: Maryland (20-1) vs. Lafayette (17-1)

Where: Artificial Turf Facility, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 11 a.m.

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