Scouting the familiar four
It's a field hockey final four of teams comfortable with the moment, as North Carolina (18 appearances), Maryland (17), Connecticut (11) and Duke (4) have combined to reach this stage 50 times.
No. 4-seeded Duke defeated top-seeded Maryland 3-2 in the first semifinal Friday, while No. 2 Connecticut edged No. 3 North Carolina in a shootout (2-0) after the teams were deadlocked 1-1 through two overtimes. Sunday's championship at Old Dominion's L.R. Hill Sports Complex in Norfolk, Va., will be at 4 p.m. ET.
The Division II and III championship games also will be played there Sunday, the first time all three field hockey championships will be at the same venue.
A look at the Division I final four:
No. 1 Maryland vs. No. 4 Duke
Head-to-head: Maryland defeated Duke 5-1 on Nov. 2, and 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 8. Duke prevailed Friday, 3-2.
How advanced: Defeated American 4-1 in the first round and Princeton 3-2 in the quarterfinals in College Park.
Terrapins' season: Finished 15-1 versus nationally ranked teams, including two victories apiece over North Carolina and Duke. The Terrapins' lone loss came to Old Dominion on Oct. 20.
Keep your eye on: ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jill Witmer (19 goals, 8 assists, 46 points), ACC Defensive Player of the Year Ali McEvoy and keeper Natalie Hunter, all of whom are members of the U.S. senior national team. The well-balanced offensive attack also includes sophomore midfielder Anna Dessoye (12 goals, 16 assists) and junior midfielder Maxine Fluharty (12 goals, seven assists).
In the words of coach Missy Meharg: "We have a lot of parity. We don't have one, two or three players who might be deemed as superstars, though Jill Witmer might move to the front while scouting us. What I like about the women and the way they train is they train with a lot of intensity. We have 23 players, and every day all 23 players compete and they play evenly. The ball transfers all over the field, and I've been impressed that there hasn't been any subdivisions within the unit."
Notable: ACC champion Maryland has won eight national titles, the last in 2011. The Terrapins are in their sixth straight final four. Meharg has been coach for seven of the national championships and was an assistant on the other in 1987. ... Maryland leads the nation in scoring average and scoring margin. In 22 games this season, 16 different Terrapins have scored and 13 have scored two goals or more. ... Maryland's 55 wins in the NCAA tournament are the most by any school. ... The Terrapins fell by a penalty stroke to eventual national champion Princeton in last year's national semifinal.
No. 4. Duke (17-6)
How advanced: Defeated New Hampshire 6-1 in the first round and Massachusetts 4-1 in the quarterfinals in Durham.
Blue Devils' season: Finished 10-6 against ranked teams, including a 3-2 victory over North Carolina in an overtime shootout.
Keep your eye on: Senior forward Emmie LeMarchand (16 goals, 13 assists) of Worcester, England, who dominates offensively for the Blue Devils with 45 points. Junior forward Jessica Buttinger is second with 18 points. Sophomore Lauren Blazing is the top keeper in the ACC with a .792 save percentage.
In the words of coach Pam Bustin: "I've been thinking about this senior class. They've really trusted new leadership and new vision and have put in the work. For me, what makes this team so special is, they've really earned this opportunity. They've done all the things they've needed to do to put themselves in this position."
Notable: Duke has not advanced to the final four since 2006. The Blue Devils have made three trips to the title game, the last in 2005. ... Bustin is in her third season as head coach at Duke; the Blue Devils lost in the NCAA quarterfinals in 2011. ... If Duke and North Carolina advance, sisters Aileen Johnson, a Blue Devil, and Shannon Johnson, a Tar Heel, would play against each other for the national title.
No. 3 North Carolina vs. Connecticut
Head-to-head: Before Friday's semifinal win by Connecticut, North Carolina defeated Connecticut 2-1 on Oct. 26 in a game, also played in Norfolk.
North Carolina (18-5)
How advanced: Defeated Delaware 6-2 in the first round and Wake Forest 5-2 in the quarterfinals in Chapel Hill.
Tar Heels' season: Finished 11-5 against ranked teams, including 2-1 victories over Virginia and Connecticut. Three of the Tar Heels' five losses have come in overtime to Duke, Maryland and Old Dominion.
Keep your eye on: National assist leader Emily Wold (23 assists) has 35 total points, second on the team behind Nina Notman (15 goals, seven assists, 37 points). Forward Casey Di Nardo, playing just 30 minutes from her hometown of Virginia Beach, has emerged as an offensive threat in her second season with 14 goals; the sophomore just scored twice last year. Internationally acclaimed All-American Charlotte Craddock has a dozen goals this season, including four in her last two games. Anchoring the Tar Heels' defense are graduate student Janne Grove and junior keeper Sassi Ammer, who has a .735 save percentage.
In the words of coach Karen Shelton: "We want to win it every year, and if you don't win it, there's a level of disappointment. But what I've always felt is if you can get your team to the final four, that's when you can relax and say, 'OK, it's been a great year. We're one of the top four teams in the country. Now we can relax and celebrate the game.' Hopefully we can get to the final and hopefully win the final. I think we've been a program that hasn't felt an extraordinary amount of pressure. I don't think this group feels we have to win it or we're not good enough."
Notable: North Carolina has played in more NCAA tournament games (75) than any other school and its 30 NCAA tournament appearances are second only to Old Dominion. ... The Tar Heels have won six national titles, the last in 2009, and have been NCAA runners-up the past three years. ... North Carolina started the season 8-0 before losing a penalty shootout to Duke on Sept. 27. ... The Tar Heels' 2-1 overtime loss to Maryland on Oct. 5 was the first time they had lost at home since 2011. ... North Carolina graduated 11 from last year's 23-2 team.
How advanced: Defeated Boston College 2-1 in overtime in the first round and Michigan State 3-1 in the quarterfinals in Storrs.
Huskies' season: Finished 10-3 against ranked teams, including a 1-0 victory over defending national champion Princeton and a 1-0 victory over Old Dominion in the Big East championship game, halting the Lady Monarchs' winning streak at 12. The Huskies have won six straight after dropping three in a row in October.
Keep your eye on: Junior forward Chloe Hunnable (22 goals, five assists) of Halstead, England, is the points leader followed by senior forward Marie Elena Bolles (16 goals, 13 assists) and sophomore midfielder Roisin Upton (12 goals, 15 assists). But don't overlook senior Anne Jeute, whose 11 goals include seven game winners, most recently against Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Senior All-American keeper Sarah Mansfield holds the school record for shutouts with 29, including 10 this season.
In the words of coach Nancy Stevens: "Our attack works by tirelessly pressing, which is very thankless and hard work and a lot of running. And they're willing to do that. That is really important to what we're doing. ... We're not as good as Barcelona in soccer or European football; they have the three-second rule, so when they lose the ball, they need to get it back in three seconds. We have the six-second rule, where we need to get it back within six seconds."
Notable: Stevens is the winningest coach in Division I history, having surpassed retired Old Dominion coach Beth Anders on Oct. 11. Stevens' current mark is 570-175-24. She is in her 34th season as coach, 23rd season at UConn. ... UConn won the inaugural national title in 1981 and won again in 1985. The Huskies have not reached the championship game since 1985. ... After dropping a 5-0 decision to Old Dominion on Oct. 25, Stevens changed her lineup, moving All-American forward Jeute to the midfield and starting freshman Anna Middendorf, now an integral part of the Huskies' corner attack.