LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It’s becoming an annual tradition in the Division I field hockey national championship game.
For the sixth time, No. 4 Maryland (18-4) and No. 1 North Carolina (23-1) will face off for the title.
Maryland advanced to Sunday’s final with a 4-0 victory against No. 2 Old Dominion in the semifinals Friday at Trager Field.
The storied programs share a long history, especially when it comes to battling for the title. Last year, the Terrapins defeated the Tar Heels 3-2 in two overtimes. In 2009, North Carolina won bragging rights with a 3-2 win.
While the teams are familiar with each other, Maryland said the Tar Heels might not recognize the squad they’ll see on Sunday.
The Terrapins changed up their style of play, practicing a new tactic since Wednesday in preparation for Old Dominion, a team that stretches the midfield.
“We knew it was a huge gamble,” Maryland coach Missy Meharg said. “We’ve seen so much video of them. They’re so strong, they’re an incredible team.
“North Carolina, tactically we’re very familiar with them. I’m sure they’re wondering if we’ll come out in something like they just saw, because I guarantee they’ve never seen a formation like that from Maryland.”
Meharg, who has been at the helm of the Terrapins since 1988, said the Terrapins had just recently hit their stride.
“We haven’t played good hockey throughout the season,” Meharg said. “We’ve had different systems. It’s really just been in the past three weeks that the whole level of the belief of our potential came, and it’s been really good timing. I don’t think we’ve really thought about being in this position before right now.”
While North Carolina had to fight for its 4-3 double overtime semifinal win against UConn, Maryland cruised to an easy victory vs. the Monarchs (22-3).
Junior Colleen Gulick, junior Megan Frazier, senior Jemma Buckley and junior Harriet Tibble notched goals for the Terrapins.
“We did have the statistics on our side, but the ball didn’t go in the net,” Old Dominion coach Beth Anders said. “Sometimes that just happens. I don’t think we played how we can play and as aggressive as we can play.”
Maryland has competed in 17 consecutive NCAA tournaments and collected four titles in the past six years. North Carolina is seeking its seventh championship, with two in the last four years.
In their only meeting this season, the Tar Heels topped the Terrapins 2-1 at Chapel Hill on Oct. 22.
“It’s more personal, because we’ve played so many times against each other,” said Frazer, a midfielder from Derry, Northern Ireland. “There’s motivation for us because of the history.”