Nov. 9, 2008
DURHAM, N.C. - In a championship game that was as intense and as hard-fought as the final score would indicate, the Maryland field hockey team emerged with a 4-3 victory over Wake Forest to earn their seventh Atlantic Coast Conference championship and first since 2005. Junior Nicole Muracco scored the game-winner, deflecting a hard pass into the circle from sophomore Katie O'Donnell with under three minutes to play.
Maryland (18-2) trailed at halftime, 2-1, before turning up the pressure in the second half. Nicole Muracco (Sewell, N.J./Washington Township) scored twice in the period including the game-winner, earning recognition as an All-Tournament performer. Katie O'Donnell (Blue Bell, Pa./Wissahickon) was also named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Terrapin defender Brianna Davies (Annville, Pa./Palmyra).
Senior Susie Rowe, who had a goal and an assist in the semifinal victory over Virginia and contributed to a defense which held Wake Forest to just three second-half shots, was named the Tournament Most Valuable Player. Rowe, who also garnered the honor when the Terrapins won the title in 2005, is the fifth player in league history to be named Tournament MVP twice.
"The Maryland team pulled out a championship against an incredibly athletic and talented Wake Forest team," head coach Missy Meharg said. "Our women seem to empower each other. When they're down or when they're up, they see the game as an even score. They're so vigorous. I'm just really honored by the way they compete with seemingly adverse situations. It took us a while to get us in our groove and really compete and go for broke. We're just really proud of the women and the way they played."
Maryland got on the board first, when Katie O'Donnell (Blue Bell, Pa./Wissahickon) drove into the half circle untouched. O'Donnell came from Wake Forest goalie Crystal Duffield's right and deked Duffield to the ground before dishing a pass to senior Danielle Keeley (Elkton, Md./North East), who poked it into the cage.
Almost immediately, the Demon Deacons (19-3) answered, when Minou Gimbrere scored from near the top of the half circle. Wake Forest would add another goal before halftime, as Melissa Martin scored off a penalty corner.
Maryland found itself in the same position it was in on Friday against Virginia. That day, the Terps could not tie the score until less than 15 minutes remained. On Sunday, the Terps only took five minutes before Susie Rowe (London, England/Colfe's School) ripped a shot that Duffield saved but could not control. Muracco pulled in the rebound and knocked it home, tying the score.
Five minutes later, Maryland took the lead. Again, it was Katie O'Donnell displaying dazzling ball-handling skills as she brought the ball into the half circle, again forcing Duffield to commit before passing it off to senior Sarah Scholl (Center Valley, Pa./Southern Lehigh). Scholl put the ball in the back of the cage, and all of a sudden the Terps held a 3-2 lead.
Once again, the lead did not last long. Exactly a minute later, Raisa Schiller reached into a scrum in front of the Maryland cage and poked the ball behind the defense.
Play went back-and-forth for the next twenty minutes, with both teams being denied chances by resilient defenses. With the clock winding down and the prospect of a second consecutive overtime game looming, the Terps committed to "one ball, one shot," as Muracco put it, looking to end the game in regulation.
The shot came when O'Donnell, who once again had gained control and made room for herself in the Wake Forest half of the field, ripped a hard pass into the circle. No one was able to get a stick on it, except Muracco, who deflected the ball past the outstretched arms of Duffield to give Maryland a lead.
The game was not over yet, and Wake Forest had one last chance. The Deacons once again found themselves rebounding quickly from a Maryland score, bringing the ball into the Terps' half circle. Just before, Muracco's shot had eluded Duffield's grasp. Wake Forest could not duplicate that, though, as junior goalie Alicia Grater (Gilbertsville, Pa./Boyertown Area) made one last diving save to deny Wake's last real scoring opportunity and preserve the victory for Maryland.
As the clock ticked to zero, the Terrapins' bench exploded onto the field and congregated near midfield to celebrate before bringing the championship trophy to the stands on the far side of the turf to display for their fans.
Maryland will revel in their victory a little longer, before finding out on Tuesday who their opponent in the first round of the NCAA Tournament will be. The tournament bracket will be revealed on Tuesday evening, and the first round will be on Saturday.
#2 Wake Forest (19-3) 2 1 - 3 #1 Maryland (18-2) 1 3 - 4 GOALS: WF, Minou Gimbrere (Kim Romansky), 15:22; Melissa Martin (Minou Gimbrere, Michelle Kasold), 21:37; Raisa Schiller (un), 47:55. MD, Danielle Keeley (Katie O'Donnell), 14:57; Nicole Muracco (un), 40:05; Sarah Scholl (Katie O'Donnell), 46:55; Nicole Muracco (Katie O'Donnell), 67:17. PENALTY CORNERS: WF 4 MD 2. SAVES: WF, Crystal Duffield 3 (4 GA, 70:00); MD, Alicia Grater 6 (3 GA, 70:00). GREEN CARDS: WF, Raisa Schiller (24:45), Lauren Greenwald (56:29). ATTENDANCE: 412