In a weekend series meant to test its worth as a legitimate national contender, the AU Women’s Field Hockey team proved that it can compete with the best in the country.
The No. 9 Eagles defeated No. 3 University of Maryland, 3-1, on Sunday to complete a weekend sweep in College Park, Md., that began with a rout of Patriot League foe Lafayette. The win over Maryland was the Eagles’ first in the 30-year history of the series.
The rivalry between the two teams dates back to 1974, when Maryland beat AU, 9-0. Sunday’s game was also the first time that both teams were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game.
The victory over the Terrapins puts the Eagles into the national spotlight, as they defeated a team that previously had been ranked No. 1 overall. While the victory will generate a lot of buzz for the Eagles, AU head coach Steve Jennings feels that the team needs to be able to keep its composure in order to stay on top.
“If we put a feeling on ourselves that we should win, only bad things will happen,” Jennings said. “We need to continue improving as a team and not worry about anything else.”
Coming into the weekend’s tournament, the Eagles were 8-2-0 overall, 1-0-0 in the Patriot League. After Saturday’s victory over Lafayette, the team was ready to strike against the Terrapins.
The game began slowly as each side played defensively, not wanting the other team to gain any ground. The first break came for Maryland, when junior Tiffany Marsh was able to knock a rebound past Eagles goaltender Allison Fayfich at 9:46 of the first half. Fayfich regained her composure and was able to withstand Maryland’s 10 other first-half shots.
Jennings said that if it wasn’t for Fayfich’s strong play, the team wouldn’t have been able to come back against a Maryland squad that hadn’t lost when leading at the half this season.
“We definitely needed some big saves in the beginning, but Allison was able to make them because we were forcing shots from lower angles, which made them more predictable for her,” Jennings said. “At the half I told the team that we needed to come out strong and impose our will, gain territory, and most importantly, maintain possession of the ball.”
The second half began slowly for both teams as shots on both sides were deflected and both defenses held strong. At 49:40 however, the Eagles were awarded a penalty corner. Sophomore Heidi Hershberger charged to the net and deflected the penalty corner past Terrapin’s goaltender Christina Restivo to tie the game. From there the tide began to turn in the Eagle’s favor.
With 14:11 left to go in regulation, AU freshman Camila Infante drove a baseline flick over the goaltender to put the team ahead for good. The goal rang especially true for Infante who, along with her sister Denise, was competing against her other sister Paula who plays for Maryland. Paula put up a strong performance for the Terps, registering seven of the team’s 25 total shots.
The Eagle’s put the game away two minutes and eighteen seconds later, when Hershberger netted her second goal of the game after a feed off a penalty corner from junior Maureen Daniel.
It was Eagle’s fourth shot on goal for the game, and their last.
Overall, the Eagle’s registered four shots, all on goal, while the Terrapin’s managed just 12 shots on goal in 25 total attempts. Fayfich made 11 saves, allowing one goal. Her counterpart, Restivo, allowed all three goals, making just one save. The Eagles also conceded a 15-4 edge in penalty corners.
Afterwards, Jennings talked about the game that was a tale of two halves.
“I think in the second half we came out and tried to play as if we were in the game,” Jennings said. “We were flat in the first half and had to take our only timeout early, but we were able to regain our composure and put together a solid win.”
The victory puts the Eagles mark at 10-2-0 overall, 2-0-0 in the Patriot League. The marquee win should raise the Eagle’s STX/NFHCA ranking.
In the first game on Saturday, the Eagles struck early and often as they easily downed Lafayette 8-2. Freshman Maggie Hall netted a hat trick for the team, scoring all three of her goals in the first half. The women scored four goals in the first seven minutes of the game en route to a six-goal first half.
Fayfich played 35 minutes for the Eagles, allowing zero goals on one shot. Freshman Makinsie Sheridan replaced Fayfich in the second half, making two saves on four shots. The Leopards scored twice in the first 12 minutes of the second half as Missy Farrand and Diane Shane scored. Overall the Eagles out-shot the Leopards 21-5 and had a 7-4 advantage in penalty corners.
Jennings said afterwards that the win against the Patriot League rival provided and unusual benefit for the Eagles.
“We scored six goals in the first half against [Lafayette], which allowed us to rest some of our players for the second game,” Jennings said. “But the intensity of the two games was so different so the second win is that much more incredible.”
The Eagles are back in action next weekend with games against Patriot League rival Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa. on Saturday and against Davidson in D.C. on Sunday. The team’s next national test comes Oct. 24 when they play against No. 16 Syracuse. The Orange recently won their fifth straight game, 4-0 against Cornell that propelled them into the national rankings.
With all the hype about the team raging across the country, Jennings said that he had no fear that the ranking would get to his players’ heads.
“We recognize that our next game against Lehigh is more important than today’s because it’s against a league rival,” Jennings said. “I think our team has a good head on its shoulders and will understand that the ranking is just a number.”