Maryland field hockey program wins everything but attention

Coach Missy Meharg has been in College Park for 22 years and has won five national titles, including three in the past four years.
Coach Missy Meharg has been in College Park for 22 years and has won five national titles, including three in the past four years. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Jon Brand
Friday, October 23, 2009

Maryland junior forward Katie O'Donnell was walking on campus earlier this year when a fellow student stopped to ask her about the provenance of a silver ring adorning her finger.

"Oh, wow, is that a class ring?" her friend asked.

"No, actually it's for winning the national championship last year," O'Donnell said.

"Oh yeah," the friend said, "you guys are good, right?"

This is a customary exchange for the 23 members of Maryland's field hockey team, who, despite being one of the most dominant collegiate sports programs in the country, live in relative anonymity in College Park.

The Terrapins have won three of the last four NCAA championships and have lost just seven games since 2006, and their six national titles are second only to the women's lacrosse team, with whom they share a facility, as the most of any Maryland athletic program.

This season, they've retained the magic from a year ago, when they went 22-2 and beat Wake Forest in the NCAA championship game. The Terrapins have started this season 16-0 -- tied with the 2007 squad for the best start in program history -- and have been ranked No. 1 since the season started in August. Their last loss came more than a year ago, a 3-2 defeat at home to Duke.

Led by O'Donnell, the country's second-leading points scorer, senior forward Nicole Muracco and freshman midfielder Megan Frazer on offense, Maryland has outscored its opponents 80-17. The Terrapins visit No. 2 North Carolina (15-0) on Saturday, with the top seed in the ACC tournament on the line.

The defense has been typically stellar, with senior back Emma Thomas, a native of England, and senior goalie Alicia Grater leading the way.

But at the heart of the team's success is Coach Missy Meharg, a former U.S. international player who was inducted into the Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame in October. Through a combination of top recruiting and progressive coaching philosophies, Meharg has carefully cultivated a culture of winning over 22 years in charge of the program.

She has drawn on her experience as an assistant in the late '80s under former Maryland coach Sue Tyler, encouraging domestic players to compete at the international level -- 40 of her current and former players have played for the U.S. national team -- and recruiting overseas, where the men's and women's version of the game thrives.

There are four non-Americans on the roster this season, including Thomas, who transferred in 2008 from the University of Bath in England.

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