CARY, N.C. — It took Hayley Brock and the Maryland Terrapins less than five minutes to break down the Wake Forest defense and the team never looked back, cruising to a 2-0 victory which sends them to the ACC championship against Virginia on Sunday.
The Terps headed into the tournament seeded second, but have played most of the season in the shadow of other highly-touted teams such as North Carolina, Duke and Florida State. With the release of the ACC awards this weekend, Maryland’s players notably took a back seat on the All-Conference teams to the dearth of national teamers scattered amongst the other schools. Terp standouts Brock and Becky Kaplan managed to just crack the second team.
First-year head coach Jonathan Morgan says it’s just that sort of underestimation which drives his team to succeed.
“It’s kind of a Maryland thing,” the coach said after Friday’s victory. “It’s pretty cool to be a Terp because we always have a little chip on our shoulder and feel like we gotta give a little more to get that respect. We started the season picked to be seventh in the league… I think it motivates our team to play.”
The chip-heavy Terps came out of the gate flying, gaining early possession in the center of the pitch as the Wake defenders struggled to work the ball out of their defensive third. With just four-and-a-half minutes on the clock, Maryland quickly worked the ball straight down the throats of the Wake backline. Kaplan found Brock, who split two defenders as she received the ball in close quarters and fired a shot into the right corner past Wake goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, who was rooted to the ground.
“Me and Becky have a pretty good chemistry,” Brock said of their combination play that lead to the goal. “I kind of knew that she was going to play it through and I saw the goalie’s positioning was on the opposite side and I just kind of poked it toward the opposite corner.”
Wake Forest took until the end of the half to muster a response, building their best scoring sequence when a Maryland giveaway in their attacking third led to a long Wake counter-attack. As Kristen Meier streaked down the left flank with the ball, she delivered a crisp diagonal pass through a seam in the retreating Terrapins defense. On the end of the pass and into the danger area, Wake’s Katie Dry took a touch to set up for the equalizer, but was stopped cold on a sliding tackle by defender Erika Nelson as she cut back into the box.
But Maryland wasn’t out of trouble yet. Katie Stengel worked the ball around the right side of box, then crossed to the left, finding Meier who took a low, driven shot which was parried wide of the net by goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands.
With seconds left, Stengel sent a corner into the box toward the head of Kim Marshall. The Deacon defender fired the ball at the left post where Maryland’s Domenica Hodak was perfectly positioned to chest it down and clear the ball out of harms’ way, closing out the half.
When the second half started with Maryland having two excellent shots on goal in less than a minute, it looked like the last 45 might go much the same as the first. Kaplan broke through the Wake back line in the 53rd minute and it became painfully obvious to Tony da Luz’s Wake Forest side that it was definitely going the same.
Kaplan took the ball on a giveaway and sprinted toward the center line, where a botched tackle by Jackie McSally left Kaplan free to run straight for goal. One-on-one with the ‘keeper, Kaplan shot for the far post, but the ball bounced off the post straight back at her. As she followed through on the shot, the forward met back up with the ball, tapping in the rebound for her 10th goal of the year and her first since scoring in the victory against Wake Forest in September.
Maryland’s direct, high-pressure approach again confounded Wake’s defense. It’s a problem da Luz says they should have been prepared for after their first loss against the Terps earlier in the season.
“It was identical,” said da Luz, almost in amazement, when comparing the goals in each game. “They scored in the first five minutes off of a turnover and a counter-attack on the first goal and then the second goal was another turnover and a counter-attack. It was absolutely identical to the second goal in the first game, so obviously we didn’t learn from the first one.
“That’s just the way it is. They’ve got dangerous players up front and they’ve got so much speed in Kaplan and Hayley Brock. They’re in a good position to defend and counter because they know they have those two players to get behind you.”
The goal gave Maryland the cushion they needed and the team reverted to a more methodical style of possession as Wake chased the ball all over the field, but were never able to mount a serious threat with Stengel becoming further separated from the rest of the team up front.
Da Luz feels it’s an issue his team will have to address as they prepare for a run in the upcoming NCAA Tournament:
“We need other players to step up instead of Katie. We need other players to step up and take the pressure off of her, otherwise our opponents can key in on her. We’ve got to do it more collectively, there’s just no other way around it.”
Morgan had praise for his team’s effort on the night, saying they played their best game of the season. He is, however, practical about the upcoming challenge against Virginia.
“We’re going to have to be a good defensive team on Sunday,” Morgan said. “We’re going to have to make sure that we don’t chase, but we also, when we have the ball, we need to continue to be confident. We can’t try to force the game; we can’t try to play so direct so often. I think when we keep it, good things happen for us.”
The final, set for 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, will mark the first time in tournament history neither finalist comes from the host state of North Carolina. When the two teams met in September, Maryland got the better of Virginia, scoring three unanswered goals after initially going down by a goal in the first half.
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