Terps celebrate big sports weekend
When you think about it, the phrase, "there's a first time for everything" is a bit presumptuous. Because there are some things that really don't ever happen.
And it may have seemed to anyone who's followed Maryland's women's soccer that beating North Carolina might fall into that category.
"North Carolina is everybody's benchmark," Maryland coach Brian Pensky said. "They have been for quite some time."
Since the Terrapins began their program in 1987, they had never toppled the mighty Tar Heels, winners of 20 NCAA titles. Maryland was 0-31-1 against UNC, and had been outscored 113-5 in the series.
Sunday in Chapel Hill, N.C., there wasn't much reason to think things would change. The No. 6 Terps are a very good team, as their ranking indicates but this weekend really didn't seem like the right time for the two-decade-plus winless drought to end.
Maryland was coming off a frustrating loss at Wake Forest on Thursday, during which two Terps starters -- Ashley Grove and Domenica Hodak -- picked up red cards, keeping them out of the match against the No. 3 Tar Heels.
And throughout most of Sunday's game, Carolina was vintage Carolina except for one thing. The Heels were up 1-0 and dominating play, but they weren't finishing good chances.
Still, it looked for much of the afternoon that wouldn't really matter. Until, all of a sudden, it did.
In the last 13 minutes, the Terps did something they hadn't been able to do in 23 years: overcome the giant. Two goals from Maryland junior Sade Ayinde gave Maryland its first victory against North Carolina.
"The nice thing about today's win, it's not just a blip on the radar screen," said Pensky, in his sixth season as Terps coach, as he and his team made a happy bus trip home to Maryland on Sunday. "We've been building toward being in a place where we're good enough to beat North Carolina. We have begun to make a name for ourselves as a program. We bounced back after a challenging loss Thursday. So it was a great day to be a Terp."
It was, in fact, a very prosperous weekend for the hard-shelled ones on several fronts. The No. 2 Terps' field hockey squad upset No. 1 North Carolina 3-2 Saturday afternoon in College Park, Md.
Also that day, the Maryland football team -- after having lost starter Pete DeSouza for the season when he was injured in a car accident last week -- beat Boston College 24-21 on the road.
Then Saturday night, the Terps' volleyball team bounced back from a loss Friday to Clemson and won at Georgia Tech for the first time in 13 years, 3-0. And the No. 3-ranked Maryland men's soccer team beat visiting Wake Forest 3-1.
All leading up to the biggest surprise: a historic victory in women's soccer Sunday.
Ayinde, a junior microbiology major, has been battling injuries. So Pensky didn't start her because he felt the Terps would need her to be as strong as possible in the latter part of the game. That decision paid off. Ayinde took a powerful goal kick from keeper Yewande Balogun and directed it in with her right foot in the 78th minute.
And with that, the Tar Heels' previous missed chances became a very pressing concern, not just something they'd be scolded about after another victory. Carolina could have been up by two or three goals, but instead, the Heels found themselves scrambling to win.
Then came a collective mistake on Ayinde's free kick in the 85th minute. The Heels' wall seemed to leap in unison to block the ball, but it actually went under their feet and deflected past keeper Hannah Daly.
"And at that point, they were on their heels a little bit," Pensky said. "They were shocked."
Understandably. This game had seemed to be the same old movie that everyone had seen over and over but then, somehow, the Terps swapped in a different last reel.
UNC coach Anson Dorrance took his first loss to Maryland with graciousness.
"He's a consummate champion," Pensky said. "He had a big smile on his face as he shook my hand. He said, 'Congratulations, that's a terrific accomplishment. I'm happy for you.' And I think he meant every word of it."
The Terps are now 13-2-1 overall, 5-2-1 in the ACC. Carolina is 14-2-1 and 6-2. Pensky put into perspective what it meant to Maryland to finally win against this particular foe.
"I don't know that there's a little girl playing soccer out there who hasn't thought about what it would be like to be a Tar Heel," Pensky said. "Everyone is chasing North Carolina, technically and athletically.
"And for Sade, I'm so happy for her. When you score two goals against North Carolina in your school's first victory ever over them, that's quite a historical accomplishment. We told her, 'You can take this feeling, put it in your pocket and keep it forever.'"
The weekend in soccer
• Maryland's victory wasn't the only women's soccer upset among top-10 teams Sunday; No. 5 Oklahoma State completed a not-pleasant trip to the Lone Star State with a 1-0 loss to No. 7 Texas A&M. The Cowgirls also lost 1-0 at unranked Texas on Friday.
One of the contenders for an NCAA tournament top seed, second-ranked Portland, held off No. 11 Santa Clara 1-0 Sunday.
• The No. 1-ranked Akron men, 13-0-1, clinched their sixth consecutive Mid-American Conference title on Saturday, beating Western Michigan 2-1. The Zips are 26-0-2 in their last 28 conference games, which tied Indiana for the NCAA's second-longest unbeaten streak in league play. The Zips are 32-0-1 in their last 33 home matches.
A little thing here or there
Saturday, while preparing for the big match Sunday in Chapel Hill, Pensky said his team was keeping tabs on the Maryland field hockey squad's battle against the Tar Heels back home.
And it was good news for the Terps. Getting some revenge for last year's NCAA title-game loss to UNC, Maryland prevailed 3-2 in College Park, Md., which will be host in November to the field hockey Final Four.
Maryland senior Katie O'Donnell, last season's Honda Award winner as Division I's top player, had two goals for the Terps.
O'Donnell said that her team and the Tar Heels are so consistently evenly matched -- one or the other has won the last five NCAA titles -- that she thinks it's often just a matter of a few small, random things that make the difference between winning and losing.
"It's almost like a coin toss," she said. "Like, whoever gets the luckiest wins. It seems like it can come down to one tip-in goal or one call going in your favor. I just think we're both such skilled teams, you can never predict anything about this game."
That said, O'Donnell felt like the victories over American on Wednesday and UNC on Sunday did show her that the Terps were more than just lucky.
"This week, we've definitely taken a step forward and molded into the group that we want to be as we get closer to the postseason," she said. "Everyone's skills were right-on this week."
Bears get the best of Big Spike
Entering the weekend, Cal volleyball wasn't in the same position in regard to Stanford as Maryland women's soccer was in regard to North Carolina. That is to say, the Bears had defeated the Cardinal before -- eight times, in fact.
However, Cal also had lost 62 times in the series. And Stanford has six NCAA titles in volleyball compared to none for the Bears. The Cardinal clearly casts a big shadow in the Bay area -- and in the sport in general.
Thus, No. 2 Stanford was the historical favorite going into Friday's "Big Spike" matchup at the Cardinal's Maples Pavilion. First place in the Pac-10 was up for grabs with both squads at 7-1.
But the No. 5 Bears won 3-1, handing Stanford its second loss of the season. Cal was greatly helped by 21 kills from junior Tarah Murrey. So now, Cal is atop the high-powered league.
Murrey relished defeating Stanford, but was wary of making it seem too out-of-proportion big. It is still October, after all.
"After the game, we looked at each other and said, 'We know we've got to work a lot harder,'" Murrey said. "We need to go to the gym on Monday and get right back to grinding."
Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORE COLLEGE SPORTS HEADLINES
- Ex-Heel Ramsay: Suit filed to improve education
- ECAC to add sports for disabled athletes
- Hopkins lax player found dead in dorm room
- Coalition formed to protect student-athletes