Field Hockey: Rematch with Maryland looms in semifinal
For the sixth time in program history, the field hockey team will compete in the final four of the NCAA tournament this weekend. No. 2 Princeton (19-1 overall, 7-0 Ivy League) will travel down to Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va., for the semifinal round against No. 6 Maryland (18-5) on Friday. If they win that game, the Tigers will advance to the championship game on Sunday to compete for their first-ever NCAA crown.
The winner of Friday’s semifinal game will play the victor from the other side of the bracket, where the semifinal matchup is between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 5 Syracuse.
“We are very excited for our semifinal game on Friday,” senior striker and co-captain Kat Sharkey said. “We are taking it one game at a time, and so right now our focus is completely on our game versus Maryland ... We have worked so hard this year since day one of preseason, and now it’s time to just put everything out on the field. And I think we are ready to do that.”
Last weekend, the Tigers dropped No. 15 Drexel 5-0 in the opening round and defeated No. 7 Virginia 5-2 in the quarterfinals the following day. Maryland has posted closer scoring margins in the postseason, with wins over Lafayette 2-0 and Connecticut 2-1.
Princeton hosted the Terps in early October, and the regular-season matchup ended 3-2 in favor of the Tigers. The last time these two teams met in the postseason was the NCAA semifinals in 2009, with the Terps coming out on top 7-5.
“We changed our structure and lineup only a few days before the Maryland regular-season game, and so everyone wasn’t entirely comfortable in their new roles,” Sharkey said. “I think we’ve improved so much since that game, but I’m sure they have improved as well. If we can play strong defense and execute our corners, hopefully we can advance to the next round.”
Historically, Maryland has accumulated a lot of postseason appearances, posting a 53-16 all-time record in NCAA tournament play with more tournament wins than any other school. Head coach Missy Meharg has led the Terps to 15 semifinals during her career and four consecutive title games.
Maryland is no stranger to finishing on top, taking home five of the last seven NCAA titles, including 2010 and 2011. Last year, despite entering the tournament unseeded, the Terps proved they were a force to be reckoned with, taking down the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds on their way to the national title.
Defensively, Princeton has continued to post impressive results. The Tigers have allowed only 18 goals this season for a .90 goals against average, the lowest in the nation. Maryland’s back line is also strong, allowing 31 goals for a 1.32 goals against average. Princeton and Maryland have each shut out a nation-high nine opponents this season, further evidence of their defensive success. Both teams will have to think creatively and work hard on attack to get open looks on goal. In net, the Tiger keepers have combined for a .806 save percentage and the Maryland goalies tally a .728 rate.
Offensively, Princeton has not let down its lucrative scoring. The team has netted 96 goals, an average of 4.8 per game; slightly behind, the Terps are at 3.83 per game. Leading the charge up front for the Tigers is Sharkey, with a nation-high 35 goals, followed by senior midfielder Katie Reinprecht with nine goals and 18 assists, junior striker Michelle Cesan with eight of each and sophomore striker Allison Evans with 11 goals.
Headlining for Maryland, a team that like the Tigers has many offensive weapons, are Jill Witmer (14 goals, 10 assists), Katie Gerzabek (10 goals, 10 assists), Megan Frazer (10 goals, eight assists) and Sarah Sprink (11 goals). Friday’s matchup will pit all of these talented players against each other as each side vies for a spot in the championship, knowing that each goal could make the difference.
Though not in the same conference, Princeton and Maryland have faced off against seven common opponents this year with similar results, further evidence of Friday’s competitive matchup. The only common foe to beat either team was Virginia, which went 1-1 against Maryland and lost both its games to the Tigers.
“We’ve had a very tough schedule this year, and so we’ve come up against many of the top teams already,” Sharkey said. “We’ve played against a variety of playing structures, and our opponents have thrown pretty much everything at us, in terms of corners, pressing and outletting. We’ve learned from every game we’ve played and have made changes each week; I think we even learned a lot from the first and second round games this past weekend.”
Though Maryland has postseason experience on their side, the Tigers carry the positive momentum from their successful regular season and two tournament wins into Friday’s matchup. Both teams will have to battle hard in the semifinals for a chance to advance to Sunday’s championship game and play for the NCAA crown.