The Maryland field hockey program is used to winning national championships. After earning the Atlantic Coast Conference title Nov. 10, the 2013 Terrapins will spend the next two weekends trying to reach the pinnacle again.
During its final ACC season, before joining the Big Ten, top-ranked Maryland beat No. 3 North Carolina, 2-0, Nov. 10 in Newton, Mass., to win the league title. The Terrapins improved to 20-1 overall and finished with a perfect conference record.
But that's only part of the story for coach Missy Meharg and her motivated squad. If the Terrapins win their NCAA first- and second-round games Nov. 16 and 17, they will be headed to Norfolk, Va., for the Final Four Nov. 22 and 24.
Meharg credited a busy schedule of high-level competition for the development of her team, which posted an 18-6 mark and reached the NCAA semifinals last fall.
"We have three players on the U.S. national team and three that competed at the Junior World Cup," Meharg said. "We also have two players from Germany who play on their national team. Our players love the game and have chosen to play it year-round."
The deep and experienced Maryland squad, which earned the top seed in the 19-team NCAA tournament, takes an impressive resume into the postseason. The Terrapins have posted 13 wins against teams that were ranked in the national top 20 when Maryland played them. Meharg's team beat North Carolina twice and also topped Princeton, which edged Maryland during the 2012 national semifinals. The Terrapins' only loss came Oct. 20, when they dropped a 3-2 decision to visiting Old Dominion.
An explosive offense has spurred Maryland to the nation's best record. The Terrapins have averaged more than four goals per game while outscoring opponents by a 92-24 margin. Senior forward Jill Witmer led the team with 25 points (15 goals, 10 assists) during her 2012 All-America campaign, and is likely to surpass that total this fall. Witmer, the ACC's Offensive Player of the Year, again leads the Terrapins with 16 goals and seven assists. She could become a four-time All-American.
"Jill is 100 percent our team leader," said Meharg, who has guided Maryland to seven NCAA titles and 470 victories during her 26 seasons at the school. "She's not your rah-rah type. She leads because of the way she plays. She probably can run faster with the ball than anyone in the nation can run without it. Jill might be one of the fastest players ever."
Two additional Terrapins have passed the 30-point mark. Sophomore midfielder Anna Dessoye (10 goals, team-leading 15 assists) and junior midfielder/forward Maxine Fluharty (12 goals, seven assists) have also sparked Maryland at the offensive end.
"We don't have one player that teams can focus on stopping," said Meharg, who earned ACC Coach of the Year honors for the seventh time. "We're a balanced team, where everyone touches the ball the same amount."
Maryland has been stingy on defense, holding opponents to no more than one goal during 15 of its 21 games. Senior defender Ali McEvoy has excelled at both ends of the field. McEvoy, who earned the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award, is also Maryland's fourth-leading scorer (nine goals, 10 assists). Senior goalkeeper Natalie Hunter ranks among the national leaders in save percentage (third, .802) and goals-allowed average (fourth, 1.03), through Nov. 10.
"Natalie has kept us in a lot of games this year," Meharg said. "She's been invaluable to us."
Maryland needs Hunter and the prolific offense to keep producing. The Terrapins must win their next four games to take their first national title since the 2011 season. Maryland will host American University at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 16 during an NCAA first-round game. If the Terrapins win that matchup, they will host the winner of the Nov. 16 game between Penn State and Princeton for a second-round game at 2 p.m. Nov. 17.
"I'd like to see our goalkeeping and scoring statistics stay right where they are," said Meharg, whose Terrapins have won five out of the last eight national championships. "We need to play at top speed, and have fun."
2016 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament Set For Verizon Center
Even though the University of Maryland is leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, the league will still have a footprint in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. On Nov. 13, conference commissioner John Swofford announced that the 2016 ACC men's basketball tournament will be held at the 20,000-seat Verizon Center.
The ACC's visit will mark the first time that the league tournament has been held at the downtown D.C. venue since 2005. The 14-game tournament will be played from March 9-13, 2016.
The Washington area has previously hosted the nation's oldest conference basketball tournament on five occasions. The ACC, which normally stages its signature postseason event in North Carolina, held previous D.C.-area championships at the Capital Centre in 1976, 1981 and 1987 before moving to the Verizon Center eight years ago.