By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Fans who had spent much of the previous two hours chanting and cheering for the home team Sunday afternoon filed quietly out of the University Hall Turf Field.
UVa’s field hockey players might have wanted to leave, too. But they stood and stared numbly as their counterparts from Maryland accepted the huge trophy that goes to the ACC champion.
Watching the Terrapins celebrate, Virginia junior goalkeeper Kim Kastuk said later, brought to her mind “a lot of what-ifs, definitely a lot of frustration. You work all year for this, and you come up just short. It’s definitely painful, and a little bit of a shock, too. But we have the NCAA tournament to look forward to and put all our emotions into that, just working hard and coming back stronger.”
A regulation game lasts 70 minutes. This one was decided in the 72nd minute, when Megan Frazer, off an assist from Emma Thomas, converted on a penalty corner to give defending NCAA champion Maryland a 3-2 sudden-death victory before a boisterous crowd of 733 on a sparkling fall day.
“It was a great game and a great effort by both teams,” said Michele Madison, UVa’s fourth-year coach. “I don’t think you could ask for anything more in a championship game. There were a lot of champions on that field.”
The Wahoos (18-3) can expect to be seeded No. 2 or No. 3 in the NCAA tournament, whose 16-team field will be announced Tuesday night. Whether UVa will be awarded a regional is uncertain, but Madison hopes her team’s performance in the ACC tourney impresses the NCAA selection committee.
The ACC title was the second straight and eighth overall for the Terrapins. The Cavaliers, who advanced to the championship game for the first time since 2000, are still seeking their first crown.
Virginia led 2-0 at halftime, on goals by freshmen Charlotte van den Broek and Tara Puffenberger, and Madison tried to temper her players’ excitement at the break.
Play as if the score is 0-0, she told them, and give maximum effort for 35 more minutes.
“There’s no way a team as good as Maryland is going to lay down and die,” Madison said, “and we knew that.”
With 16 minutes left in the second half, however, the score was still 2-0. But the top-seeded Terrapins (20-0) pulled even with two goals in a span of 97 seconds, a flurry that clearly rattled UVa.
Sophomore Rachel Jennings said the Wahoos (18-3), who lost 3-1 to the Terps during the regular season, lost intensity once they built the two-goal lead.
“I think we let up a little bit, which is something I think we really need to work on,” Jennings said. “Obviously when you’re up 2-0, you’re really excited about it, especially against a great team like Maryland.
“A lot of people didn’t expect that from us, but I think that’s definitely a flaw that we had today, that we got a little comfortable with the lead. Hopefully we can fix that by tournament time.”
Virginia, the No. 3 seed, had a chance to win on the final play of regulation. The ‘Hoos were awarded a penalty corner, but goalkeeper Alicia Grater’s save saved the Terps and sent the game into overtime.
“I guess it just didn’t work out for us, but obviously it was really exciting,” Jennings said. “You just dream of moments like that: to have no time left on the clock and have a corner. Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity like that again and be successful.”
In regulation, a field hockey game is 11 on 11. In overtime, it’s seven on seven. That gives players more room to operate on the field and increases the probability that penalty corners will be converted.
The Terps were 0 for 7 on penalty corners in regulation, but they didn’t waste the first opportunity they got in OT.
“We give a lot of credit to Maryland,” Jennings said. “They’re an amazing team, and it’s just moments like this and games like this that prepare us for the tournament. I honestly don’t think we’re going to play a team harder than Maryland until we meet up with them in the tournament, so obviously this was great preparation.”
“Yeah,” van den Broek said with a smile. “We’re going to meet them again.”