After Maryland field hockey practice, forward Sabrina Rhodes occasionally asks defender Carrie Hanks to pass balls to her in the circle so she can practice shooting. Rhodes traps the ball and takes shots, helping improve her quickness.
That repetition proved valuable in Maryland's Big Ten tournament loss to Penn State on Friday in East Lansing, Michigan. Rhodes possessed the ball after Penn State blocked Maryland's initial shot. She didn't hesitate and scored for just the second time this season.
The Terps are confident Rhodes will establish herself as a presence on the field as Maryland begins its NCAA tournament run Saturday against Wake Forest.
"For her to be able to pick up a rebound like that and get a shot away, we were really excited for her," Hanks said. "That's something she's been trying to hone in on."
A penalty corner in the 15th minute of Maryland's 3-2 loss set up Rhodes' shot opportunity. Midfielder Lein Holsboer drove toward the net, but Penn State back Bes Bovelander got her stick on the ball to prevent a score. Holsboer was positioned to take a second shot, but instead she escaped the crowded offensive zone to make room for Rhodes.
Then, with the ball still feet in front of the net, Rhodes sent the ball into the lower-right corner of the net with a backhanded stroke. The goal tied the game at one about 10 minutes after the Nittany Lions scored the contest's first goal.
It was Rhodes' first score since Aug. 27, when she scored the go-ahead goal in the Terps' 2-1 season-opening win against Saint Joseph's.
Since arriving in College Park, Rhodes has started five games but appeared in all but one. She's recorded two assists, unable to match her production with the national champion Blue Hens last season, when she scored three times.
But Holsboer admires how often Rhodes practices shots from different angles.
"Her backhand is amazing," Holsboer said. "She wants to learn a lot and always wants to do better. Having that energy around is helpful."
Rhodes, who alternated between the forward and back lines early in the year after serving as a midfielder at Delaware, initially had an unclear role. Now, Meharg prefers to keep the 5-foot-10 Rhodes alongside the other forwards.
The payoff hasn't been evident in terms of goals, but Rhodes' athleticism has enabled her to use her long stride to pass opposing defenders, Holsboer said. After attempting just 12 shots entering Friday's matchup, though, Rhodes capitalized on an early opportunity.
"She's really stepping up," Holsboer said.