When Burl Ives sang about a “Silver and Gold” Christmas, three local field hockey standouts took it literally.
The No. 1-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels (23-0) topped the No. 2 seed Maryland Terrapins (22-3) 2-0 in the Nov. 18 Division I national championship game.
It marked the seventh time that UNC met Maryland in a field hockey national title tilt.
UNC sophomore Bryn Boylan, also a former Central Bucks West All-American in lacrosse, took home a gold. “I love both sports and I do miss lacrosse,” Boylan admitted, “but when I visited UNC, it clicked for me to go to school there, play for (coach) Karen (Shelton) and for this team. It has such a great reputation for field hockey and I wanted to be a part of that.
“I would contribute our success to our upperclassmen’s leadership and our team chemistry,” Boylan continued. “Their determination to finally win a national championship drove the rest of us forward. Our team motto is ‘With each other, for each other.’ That really showed on and off the field. If you get the opportunity to step on the field, everyone plays with such determination and heart for this team.”
Boylan, a midfielder last season, logged action as a forward in 13 games for the 2018 Tar Heels. Her three goals, scored over a four-game span, ranked 10th on the team.
“Trying to figure out my role on the team really gave me motivation to do better with my field hockey skills,” Boylan continued. “I wouldn’t have been able to make those goals without my teammates.” Boylan used phrases like “getting a perfect pass” and “set me up unselfishly” when describing her scores.
Two local Maryland freshmen – CB East’s Riley Donnelly and Boylan’s CB West teammate Taylor Mason – took home silver.
“The final four was obviously a great experience. Our team really went through a lot throughout the season,” Donnelly said. “We pulled through and worked together. It was upsetting for me but I know how much harder it was for the seniors. But the whole experience is still really neat because there are only four teams left and not everyone gets to experience that.”
“Everybody on our team has skill but our team chemistry was amazing this year,” said Mason, who had a goal and assist in 2018. “Everybody knew their role, whether you were playing or not playing.”
The difficult headlines that plagued Maryland football this year brought the other Terrapin teams together. “Seeing Damon Evans, our athletic director, come to all of our games and say that it’s been a tough year but we’re still working our butt off and doing what we’re doing was reassuring,” Mason said. “I think Maryland athletics deserved a break from all of that tension so we could do what we do best, which is play sports and be successful. All of the sports teams supported each other.”
Donnelly, a lacrosse standout like Boylan, started every game for the Terrapins and ranked second on Maryland in minutes. Her backfield surrendered just 33 goals all season.
“I ended up playing back,” Donnelly said. “(Coach) Missy (Meharg) had that plan for me coming in. I was thinking I’d be playing in the midfield or forward, rotating in while I can. But back gave me a huge amount of playing time.
“Even though it was a different position for me,” Donnelly continued, “I was thrilled to be on the field and have that role on the team. It’s definitely a different perspective but I came to feel very comfortable with it after a few games. The other girls I played back with helped me out a lot in adjusting to it.”
Donnelly doesn’t need to look far for coaching advice. Her mother, Mindy, was a field hockey standout at Lehigh. Her father, John, is CB East’s football coach.
“Preseasons are never easy especially being away from home,” Riley Donnelly said. “With them as coaches also, they know how to not push me too much but to motivate me the right way and know what I’m going through. They didn’t let me slack off. Obviously if I did, I wouldn’t have had the results that I did.”
Donnelly played every minute of the final four. Mason, who made 15 appearances for Maryland, had significant minutes in both final four games.
“When I was younger, every year my mom and I would tune in to watch the NCAA game. It was always exciting to see the winner play it out and battle,” Mason recalled. “It actually hit me while I was there that I always watched it and now had the opportunity to play in it. It’s nuts … it was really cool.
“We were also having a lot of fun because it would be the end of our season either way,” Mason continued. “It was a lot of fun – intense at times but a good intense.”
All three ladies played for coaches on field hockey’s Mount Rushmore.
Shelton and Meharg both have won seven national titles and have been with their programs for more than 30 years.
“Karen has so much knowledge and so much passion for the game,” Boylan noted. “I think her love for field hockey is unmatched by anyone that I know. She doesn’t only teach field hockey; she also helps people grow as people and become professional women.”
“(Missy) is outstanding, not just on paper but in person. She has so much field hockey knowledge that you can’t do anything but trust her,” Donnelly added.
When two rivals collide, only one can take home the winner’s trophy. But one of Boylan’s favorite memories from Louisville – the final four banquet – reflects the camaraderie in a fierce, yet civil, match.
“The four teams got to share a night together before we played,” Boylan reflected. “We get to recognize that we’ve come this far. It was amazing to see alums, families and friends in Chapel Hill come to support us.
“A lot of people I know from playing at home were in the tournament,” Boylan continued. “(Ambler’s) Casey Swayze from Princeton. Riley and Taylor at Maryland. Even though we had to play against Maryland, the fact that we were all there was really special to me. It gave me a sense of home even though it was still competitive.”