Nov. 20, 2009

By Roger van der Horst
Special to NCAA.com

Sidebar: ACC Dominates Again

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Score one for Blue Bell, Penn.

Princeton somehow managed to claw back from a 4-1 deficit Friday at Wake Forest's Kentner Field, but the Tigers just couldn't stop Katie O'Donnell, who led Maryland into the NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship Game with a 7-5 victory.

O'Donnell, one of three players from Blue Bell in the semifinals, set a final four record with nine points — three goals and three assists — with a dazzling array of speed, stick handling and passing that prompted one press box comparison to ice hockey's Alex Ovechkin.

"She plays all over the field," said Princeton coach Kristen Holmes-Winn, whose fourth-seeded team finished 16-3.

Undefeated Maryland's victory guaranteed that an Atlantic Coast Conference team would win the national title for the eighth consecutive year. North Carolina and Virginia met in the second semifinal game Friday.

After dominating the first half with their faster ball movement and wide-open attacking style, the top-seeded Terrapins (23-0) still found themselves under pressure from the resilient Ivy League squad, which scored three consecutive goals in the second half and made it 4-4 on Katie Reinprecht's second straight unassisted goal.

"I mean, think about it: It's potentially your last half," said O'Donnell, explaining the Tigers' comeback after Maryland had outshot them 11-3 in the first half. "You don't want to go out with a bad half."

Said Maryland coach Missy Meharg of the Tigers: "They were not going to be embarrassed. They were not going to get blown out."

Holmes-Winn said her team had to do a better job of defending on the ball and protecting the middle of the field.

"They've got great foot speed, but it's their ball speed that is difficult to catch up with at times," the Princeton coach said. "We had to adjust our press at halftime and find a way to get better pressure on the ball.

"We were able to do that, and I think that was the difference in the second half," she added. "We just ran out of gas at the end."

With just over 16 minutes left in the game, Meharg decided she needed to talk things over with her team. Following the timeout, the Terps settled down and proceeded to regain command.

The go-ahead goal came about three minutes later from the left side, by way of Derry, Northern Ireland. Freshman Megan Frazer weaved through traffic with the ball and blasted a low shot past Princeton goalkeeper Jennifer King to make it 5-4. Frazer is one of four international players on Maryland's 22-woman roster. (Two are from England and one from the Netherlands.)

"Megan's an interesting player," Meharg said. "She comes with a lot of jukes and touches. She's very unpredictable to play defense on, because she has different speeds. She's a finisher. She's one of those players you have to watch all the time because she'll shoot on you."

The score stayed that way until two old friends hooked up on a gorgeous play with 7:34 left, when O'Donnell sent a long, 45-degree crossing pass to Ameliet Rischen of Rotterdam, Netherlands, who put a lunging deflection into the net to put the Terps up by two goals.

"Ameliet and I have this kind of sixth sense with each other,” O’Donnel said. “She's my best friend on the team. We always hang out together. We finish each other's sentences. So, it's no surprise to me I looked right for her. I knew I was going to get the ball to her ... at least, I knew I was going to pass it to her whether it got there or not."

Neither coach was surprised by the high score, which set a record for goals in an NCAA semifinal game.

"I kind of called it," Princeton's Holmes-Winn said. "Maryland, when they recover the ball, they're really quick to get it out of the channel it's in with 30-yard passes at times, and I knew if they were able to do that, they were going to score some goals."

O'Donnell put the game away for Maryland with an unassisted goal in the final four minutes, stick handling to her right just inside the circle and converting as she fell hard to the artificial turf. She was shaken up and left the game briefly.

Reluctant to discuss her individual exploits, O'Donnell had no problem blaming herself for looking a bit awkward for once.

"I didn't even know the ball went into the goal until I heard the ref blow the whistle," the junior forward said, "and then I knocked the air out of my lungs. It was totally my fault for being injured."

On Friday, she knocked the wind out of Princeton.