Two weeks ago, the prospects of the Maryland men's soccer team reaching the NCAA Tournament for the 14th consecutive season were probably as close to requiring resuscitation as at any time during that stretch. Following their overtime loss at Northwestern the Terrapins were 3-5-2 overall and 1-2-1 in conference play in their initial Big Ten season. They had been shut out four times in those ten games - the most shutouts in any season since 2001 when they were shutout on five occasions. Their RPI had dropped 93rd in that critical matrix. Less than half the season remained for the Terps to turn things around. Though that turnaround didn't look like it would be an easy one, turn things around they did - jumping to 23rd in the RPI released by the NCAA Monday morning.
What a diff'rence two weeks makes (apologies to Dinah Washington)
Lying in wait for the scoring challenged Terps at the beginning of this two week stretch were the top two teams in terms of RPI in the B1G, Penn State and Indiana. Perhaps even more daunting, prior to playing Maryland, Penn State's defense had given up only three goals for the season. As for Indiana, they held the top spot in the RPI and Maryland would have to travel to Bloomington to face a hot Hoosiers squad on their home turf and one that hadn't lost in seven games.
The Terps returned home and began to show some signs of life. Alex Shinsky and Mikias Eticha returned to the lineup in a stern test against VCU. By the time Penn State came to College Park, Tsubasa Endoh had also made his way back onto the pitch for Maryland. Though they scored only a single goal against VCU, the Terrapins' attack seemed to benefit almost immediately from the energy and creativity a healthy Shinsky and Eticha brought to the field.
When Penn State came to Ludwig Field, they faced a Maryland team that was playing with a sense of urgency and firing on all cylinders offensively. The Terps didn't merely pick up a 4-0 shutout of the Nittany Lions, they scored more goals than Penn State's eleven previous opponents combined.
Maryland picked up their third consecutive shutout in a 2-0 mid-week blanking of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. It also marked a third consecutive win and moved the Terrapins' record above .500 for the first time in the current season. Sunday, Indiana became the fourth consecutive foe to fall to the rejuvenated Terps. Though a desperate Hoosiers team scored a late goal ending Maryland's string of holding opponents without a goal at 342 minutes, Indiana couldn't overcome Maryland's two goal lead and the Terps had their first road win of the season.
The upshot of it all
The most important affect of Maryland's four game winning streak is that it has vaulted the Terps 70 spots in the RPI all the way to number twenty-three. Suddenly, the prospects of maintaining that string of NCAA appearances appears much more realistic.
Work remains to be done, however. Four games stand between Maryland and their first B1G Tournament. Two of those are conference games - at home against Ohio State and on the road at Rutgers - and while they need some significant help, the Terps are still in contention for a possible B1G title.
Regardless of whether they receive that help or not, if the Terps continue to play at this level, they should sweep their last four games before the Big Ten Tournament where they look poised to make a deep run as well. Not only do the prospects of a 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance now look more likely than not but the possibility of a 13th straight run to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond also looks well within reach.