When the Maryland field hockey team faced Ohio State last fall, early offensive aggression enabled defender Carrie Hanks to give Maryland a one-goal lead in the first period, en route to a 2-1 victory.
Coach Missy Meharg's squad was comparably effective at prompt scoring last year against Penn State. It took two-and-a-half minutes for forward Welma Luus to record Maryland's first goal in a 5-4 regular-season win, and about 26 minutes for Emma Rissinger to score the Terps' first goal in their 2-1 Big Ten tournament loss to the Nittany Lions.
But the 2017 version of Meharg's team has struggled to generate offense early in games, and sometimes throughout the entire contest. The Terps enter Friday's showdown against No. 25 Ohio State averaging fewer than three goals per game.
"We're talking about it and addressing it," Meharg said Sunday.
Maryland scored a combined eight times in wins against Michigan State and Liberty last weekend, but still, the attack's inconsistencies have prompted Meharg to focus on that unit. As what could prove to be a season-defining weekend of conference play awaits — Maryland will host the Buckeyes and No. 6 Penn State — performance in the game's early moments could dramatically impact the outcome.
The strategies Meharg used during practices seemed to contribute to Maryland's improved output against the Spartans and Flames. Regardless of whether the Terps trained in 3-on-3, 5-on-5 or 7-on-7 scenarios, Meharg led conversations about "the mechanical tactics that happen when you have the ball versus when you don't have the ball at the beginning of every game."
The scale of Maryland's practice "games" aimed at fueling faster starts often changes. Sometimes the drills are reserved to one small area of the field. Then, Meharg said the team participates in bigger games before the Terps expand to use the entire field.
It took 70 seconds for midfielder Madison Maguire to record Maryland's first score in Sunday's 4-1 win against Liberty, which added credibility to Meharg's tactics. That was done without standout midfielder Lein Holsboer involved in the attack.
Holsboer, Maryland's leading scorer, prioritized defense against the Flames, because freshman defender Sophie Giezeman was sick.
While Maryland has showed improvement recently, the Buckeyes have scored three goals in two of their last four contests, and the Nittany Lions are averaging more than three per game, meaning fast starts will crucial this weekend.
"We're so excited for next weekend," midfielder Brooke DeBerdine said Sunday. "We're all looking forward to that."