LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When asked about the continuing rivalry between the Maryland and North Carolina field hockey programs — Atlantic Conference foes who are making a habit of meeting in the NCAA title game — both teams’ coaches responded with the exact same answer.
“I think it’s a respectful rivalry,” they said.
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This year, Maryland got the best of North Carolina again with a 3-2 comeback overtime win for its second consecutive championship victory against the Tar Heels. For the past three years, both teams have battled for the trophy — and all three times, they have fought to a 3-2 end, with North Carolina last coming out on top in 2009.
It’s always a hard-fought duel as well, with two consecutive overtime finishes and four overall overtime title games since 1987.
But even after a second title game loss in a row to the Terrapins, the Tar Heels were gracious to their nemesis in defeat.
“I think it’s become a pretty good rivalry, at least since we’ve been in school the past five years,” Tar Heel senior Katelyn Falgowski said. “You just look forward to playing these kinds of games. It’s really when the sport’s at its best, when two teams with great skill are going at it. It’s enjoyable when you win and it’s heartbreaking when you lose.”
Both teams’ leaders are quite familiar with each other and their respective styles of play as well. North Carolina coach Karen Shelton was coaching in her 28th NCAA tournament; for Maryland coach Missy Meharg, it was her 22nd.
“Karen is just a dynamic coach,” Meharg said. “The way those women compete. It’s a history. One thing I have found is they’re very systematic. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. So for us to get on the board against that backfield was really a miracle. The rivalry’s there. It’s fun. Without North Carolina, Maryland could never be doing what we’re doing.”
North Carolina leads the overall series 33-24, but Maryland has won four of the last five.
“Today’s game for me was better than Friday’s game because we play a similar style,” Shelton said. “I like the way both teams move the ball. And it’s more of a chess match playing the University of Maryland than it is playing some other teams. I think playing them in the ACC, you don’t want it to become a bitter, nasty rivalry because we see them so much. That’s negative energy.”
Maryland’s Jemma Buckley, who scored the Terrapins’ key goal that tied the game at the end of regulation, said the team tries not to focus too much on the hoopla.
“I think there’s a rivalry there,” Buckley said. “But we do have to keep a level head and treat it as any other game. I think we try to concentrate more on ourselves.”