Avoiding all the trap doors that can befall the top seed, No. 1-ranked Maryland captured its third NCAA field hockey championship today with a 2-1 victory over Michigan before 3,350 at Northeastern University's Parsons Field.

The Terrapins (24-1) got first-half goals from junior Keli Smith and freshman Carissa Messimer and presented Coach Missy Meharg with her second national championship. Meharg, in her 12th season, coached Maryland to a title in 1993 and is the fourth NCAA Division I field hockey coach to capture multiple titles. The Terrapins also won in 1987.

With this latest triumph came a wide range of emotions.

"I don't think I know how I feel," said junior back Lindsay Gorewitz, a graduate of Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. "I'm in shock."

Said Smith: "I'm in denial."

Meharg was simply relieved.

"It feels good," she said. "It feels comfortable."

Meharg had taken little comfort in either her team's No. 1 ranking at the end of the regular season or its Atlantic Coast Conference tournament crown.

"Talking to athletes," she said, "they don't always understand that the best teams don't always win. . . . In fact, most often they don't. More often than not, the underdog does win. The challenge is to get everyone to realize that the best doesn't always win."

By all appearances, the Terrapins bought into Meharg's logic. They showed it by dominating the first half and by taking what appeared to be a commanding 2-0 lead.

"We just played our game," Smith said. "We came out with a lot of energy."

No one was more energetic than Smith, who caused Michigan plenty of problems with her long dashes through the defense. One of those rushes culminated in her 13th goal of the season, which came with 10 minutes 6 seconds remaining in the half. Smith pulled goalie Kati Oakes out of the way, then popped in an off-balance shot from 15 feet.

Messimer scored as time expired in the half, when she cut to the right post and cashed in a cross-field free hit taken by Dina Rizzo from well outside the circle.

Michigan received new life at 1:04, when freshman Jessica Rose sneaked behind the defense and parked her shot from short range behind goalie Ashley Hohnstine. But Hohnstine saw little activity after that, as the Terrapins' defense was solid to the finish.