Freshman midfielder Kyler Greenwalt was confused. In the 44th minute of the Maryland field hockey team's 3-1 win against No. 25 Ohio State on Friday, she stood in the circle and anticipated a subsequent hit.
It didn't come, because forward Linnea Gonzales broke away and found herself with space to work with a few feet inside the circle. The junior forward then fired off a backhanded shot that landed in the lower-left corner of the net to give Maryland a two-goal edge.
Then, Gonzales clenched her fists and screamed. She glared at the Maryland bench, with particular focus on assistant coach Katie Bam, who had challenged her to step up before the second half started.
Gonzales responded, giving coach Missy Meharg the type of production she has sought from her forwards since the season started. In what Meharg deemed a "choppy" game, Gonzales gave the Terps (9-5, 4-2 Big Ten) the momentum they would require to secure the conference win.
"I saw it go in the net and I was like, 'What?'" Greenwalt said. "I was shocked at first but I was really excited. We get excited for goals."
Even Gonzales, who is typically reserved after scoring, didn't hold back. The score came after nearly an entire half of dormant offenses. It clearly meant more to Gonzales than just another goal — this one being her sixth of the season.
Gonzales' opportunity came after Maryland's attack scored early but had difficulty adding support against the Buckeyes (7-7, 0-5), whose starting lineup featured seven seniors. It took 71 seconds for Greenwalt to score, giving the Terps an early 1-0 lead against a Buckeyes team that hasn't won a Big Ten contest.
The problem came after Greenwalt's goal, when both attacks were limited for about the next 25 minutes. The Terps and Buckeyes traded field position, each receiving opportunities in their respective offensive zones. There were missed passes and failed penalty corners on both ends.
As a result, Maryland carried that 1-0 edge into the intermission despite outshooting Ohio State 10-3 in the first half. The Buckeyes still had a chance.
"They were crafty on the ball," Gonzales said. "We watched video and prepared for that. We did pretty well."
Ohio State, led by first-year coach Jarred Martin, appeared poised to mount a comeback after coming out of the locker room. Maryland goalkeeper Sarah Holliday, whom Meharg praised as the Terps' player of the game, made a series of diving stops to maintain the Terps' edge.
Then came Gonzales' breakthrough, the type of play Meharg has been seeking from a Terps starter but one she had scarcely received before Friday.
Maryland was able to cruise to wins against Michigan State and Liberty last weekend after scoring twice in the first half of both contests. On Friday, Gonzales' score had the same effect.
The Terps and Buckeyes subsequently exchanged goals — Maryland defender Bodil Keus scored off a penalty corner and Ohio State forward/midfielder Natalie Faust responded about 13 minutes later — but the final margin remained the same.
The second half presented numerous obstacles for Maryland. Officials issued cards to Terps defenders Marissa Cutry and Logan Edmondson within 19 minutes in the second, and Maryland's video referral with 25 minutes remaining in the game left the Terps lingering on the sideline. Nonetheless, they maintained the momentum.
During training sessions, Meharg said she and Bam play a figurative game of "tug of war" because Bam wants Gonzales on the forward line, and the veteran coach wants her playing in the midfield. The same is true for midfielder Brooke DeBerdine.
On Friday, it was clear why Bam suggests Gonzales is best suited to play closer to the goal. Gonzales' score and the ensuing celebration revealed its effectiveness.
"Linnea is a beautiful goal scorer," Meharg said. "It's a really big-time result for us opening up with five first-years and rotating new players."