It was supposed to be a celebratory evening for the Maryland Terrapins. It being their last home game, they were honoring their five seniors: midfielders Kristen Schmidbauer and Alex Reed, defenders Kayla Clarke and Megan Gibbons, and forward Hayley Brock.
But there didn’t seem to be much to celebrate. Boston College had won earlier in the day to lock up one of the last ACC playoff spots, and even a win wouldn’t assure them of a spot themselves, though at least it would put them over the .500 mark needed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. (The NCAA should perhaps consider making an exception for ACC women’s soccer teams, considering that out of their nineteen matches the Terrapins played eight ranked teams and six in the top ten, mostly in their own conference.)
It was even worse come halftime. Despite playing the last-place, winless-in-the-ACC Pitt Panthers and firing off ten shots while allowing none, the match remained scoreless. “It was frustrating because we knew we should have put a few chances away, and we didn’t,” said junior forward Alex Doody, who started in place of the injured Ashley Spivey.
Head coach Jonathan Morgan agreed. “It was pretty frustrating. We were playing really well. We were defending really well. We just weren’t hungry. We didn’t have a great mentality when we were in the box. We were hitting shots, but they were very passive shots. There wasn’t a real focus or concentration, seemed like.”
Doody herself finally changed that just over five minutes into the second half. Schmidbauer intercepted a pass in the midfield and sent it on to Doody about twelve yards out from the left post, and she fired it into the lower left corner. Pitt had a chance to equalize just a couple of minutes later, but despite being alone behind the Maryland line with the ball forward Dana DelleFemine held back waiting for support rather than taking a shot and never got the chance to as the Terrapin back line recovered.
Doody had two more chances in the 54th minute, sending a shot off of Panthers goalkeeper Taylor Francis, then collecting her own rebound but from a tough angle had it blocked by a defender.
Brock would double the lead in the 67th minute, outmaneuvering a defender to the ball, then taking it to the top of the box and firing it off the right post and in. It was the 31st goal of her Maryland career, placing her third in the all-time list even though she only played there three years.
The home team would get a scare, though, in the 74th minute as a shot from Pitt freshman forward Ella Vanhanen bounced off a Maryland defender and in for an own goal. Despite the emotional boost, though, the Panthers didn’t threaten.
Then with the game winding down came one of those moments where it seems that Hayley Brock just decides “Hey, we’re going to score a goal now.” Well into her defensive end she dramatically broke free of her mark with a quick spin move, then made a beeline for the Pitt goalmouth. At one point it seemed she’d given up the ball, pushing it a good six yards forward with one touch with a defender right there, but Brock was able to cover the six yards faster than the defender could turn and cover three. She brought the ball in toward the right post, then after pulling Francis and the defense her way, rolled the ball over to the left in front of an onrushing Doody, who had an easy putaway. That restored a comfortable 3-1 lead with just a couple of minutes remaining.
Meanwhile, we in the press box were watching time run out on Wake Forest, who were upset, 2-1, by NC State. The Terrapins’ media director made sure that that was included in the post-game announcements, knowing the players would realize that as a result they’d made it into the ACC tournament.
Morgan and Doody had pretty much the same attitude about the outcome. “It’s a new season. It’s a new opportunity,” said Morgan. “This is a fresh start,” said Doody. “Everybody’s got their spirits back up.”
As the #8 seed, Maryland travels on Sunday to face the #1 Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville at 1 pm. In their previous meeting earlier this season, also in Charlottesville, UVA prevailed by the narrowest of margins, 1-0.