Maryland, North Carolina advance to field hockey championship
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The game had been scoreless for 76 minutes when Bibi Donraadt spotted an opportunity in overtime.
The Maryland forward and Big Ten Freshman of the Year split the Princeton defense and blistered a shot.
"I was 99 percent sure it was going in," Donraadt said.
"I was 100 percent sure," said Maryland coach Missy Meharg, in her 31st season coaching Maryland and 18th final four.
Their calculations held true. Donraadt's shot found the top of the cage and sent Maryland to its second consecutive national championship game. Runner-up a year ago, Maryland (22-2) will play longtime rival North Carolina for the national championship on Sunday. The Tar Heels (22-0) beat Wake Forest 4-1 in the first national semifinal at Trager Stadium.
Maryland's past three titles have all come at Trager Stadium.
Back in the old days, Maryland and North Carolina played some of the nation's best field hockey as ACC rivals.
Sunday's showdown will be their 63rd meeting and the seventh time with a national championship at stake.
Maryland has eight NCAA titles already; North Carolina owns six, but neither team has won recently. The Terrapins last won in 2011 and the Tar Heels, in 2009.
The 2018 meeting was set up in two very different fashions.
In the nightcap, Princeton had seven more corners than Maryland and had a penalty stroke called back. Maryland didn't earn a corner in the second half and struggled to put together scoring opportunities. But nothing squeaked past Sarah Holliday or the Terps defenders, who allowed just a goal apiece in opening-round victories over Albany and UConn.
"We just didn't get anything to fall," said Princeton coach Carla Tagliente, a Maryland alum whose Tigers (15-5) were playing in the final four for the second time in three years. They won the title in 2012. But it was the second time this season Princeton has failed to finish against Maryland. The Tigers led the Terps 4-1 in their regular-season meeting on Sept. 18 only to fall 5-4 in double overtime.
The afternoon's first semifinal lacked the drama the nightcap produced.
The Tar Heels topped Wake Forest (13-10) for the third time this season. The teams met 12 days ago in an ACC title game that North Carolina dominated 7-2. The Deacs, picked to finish last in the conference's preseason poll, busted a few brackets in the 18-team field, eliminating Iowa 3-2 before upsetting third-ranked Duke in double overtime in Durham, North Carolina.
But like every other team in the nation in 2018, Wake Forest couldn't solve a Tar Heels team relentless in its mission to claim the trophy for the first time in nearly a decade.
North Carolina scored in the first five minutes and the onslaught started.
The Tar Heels added three more first-half scores against their ACC sister school, a 90-minute drive from Chapel Hill. The Deacs struggled to capitalize on opportunities in the circle against one of Karen Shelton's most talented teams ever, which advanced to the title game for the first time since 2016.
Shelton is in her 38th season coaching North Carolina, the top overall seed in the tournament.
"They're a pretty special group; they're legit," said Jen Averill, in her 27th season coaching the Deacons. "So was the '92 team and the '94 team and the '96 team."
Meharg went a step further, lauding North Carolina as "possibly the best team I've seen in Division I."
It's a group with enviable depth, particularly in the midfield, and the best freshman in the country wears Carolina blue. Erin Matson, selected to Team USA when she was 16, is a dynamic playmaker who didn't need a learning curve. In only her second collegiate game, the 5-foot-4 forward scored to force overtime against Iowa.
Big stages don't intimidate her. In only her second international competition, she secured the game -- and gold for Team USA -- over Germany in the 2017 Hockey World League semifinals in South Africa.
"I've been a part of special teams," said Matson, who leads North Carolina in points. "This is definitely one of the most special."