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Maryland women's soccer: Previewing the opening weekend

The Maryland women's soccer team travels to the west coast for the first two games of the 2014 season. Before taking on Pepperdine on Sunday, the Terps will tackle the defending national champion UCLA Bruins.

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For the first time since 2003, the Maryland women's soccer team is starting their season on the West Coast. The team kicks off their season Friday August 22 against UCLA and finishes the road trip Sunday, August 24 against Pepperdine. The first game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network at 10 p.m. ET, and marks the very first game of the Maryland fall sports schedule.

On their 2003 trip out west, the Terps dropped their season opener at Washington before coming back to even their record by defeating Washington State. This year's game against top ranked and defending national champion UCLA, is the seventh time the Terrapins will face a ranked team to start the season. Maryland is 2-4-0 in the six previous games. The game marks the fourth time the Terps and Bruins have faced off. UCLA holds a 2-1 advantage in the series coming away with a 3-0 win the last time they met in 2006 when the Bruins visited College Park.

UCLA comes by their number one preseason ranking legitimately. Not only are they the defending national champions coming off a 22-1-3 season, but they return ten of their eleven starters and four of those starters are on the women's Mac Hermann Award watch list. Joining senior defender Abby Dahlkemper and senior midfielder Sarah Killion, are the Bruins' leading scorer Darian Jenkins and goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland. Jenkins, a sophomore, led UCLA with 11 goals and 5 assists in her freshman campaign while Rowland rang up 15 shutouts conceding only 7 goals in a season in which she finished with a 0.27 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.

The Terps should should counter with a fairly experienced starting eleven on the field against the Bruins. The projected starting lineup will include 2 seniors and 9 juniors who collectively have over 250 starts between them. By going with a 2-4-4 or 2-3-5 configuration, Maryland's head coach, Jonathan Morgan appears to be anticipating a defensive battle. Morgan has moved Sarah Molina into the starting midfield in place of the more offensive minded Lauren Berman. He is also expected to start Amada Gerlitz  on the back line with regular defenders Shannon Collins, Erika Nelson, and Shade Pratt. Rachelle Beanlands should start in goal and Alex Doody and Cory Ryan will handle things up front.

Heading to the beach (sort of)

After Friday night's opener, the Terps will rest for a day before they take the bus half a dozen miles west on Sunset Boulevard then ten miles or so north on the Pacific Coast Highway to the beautiful ocean side campus of Pepperdine University in Malibu. Despite the beautiful views, it will be no day at the beach as they will face the Waves in the second of the season game for both squads. Pepperdine will also have opened their season Friday though it's probably safe to assume that facing Cal Poly at home will not have provided quite as stern a test as playing UCLA on the road.

In 2013, Pepperdine finished 10-7-2 and finished fourth in the West Coast Conference winning five of their nine conference games. This was not quite enough to propel them into the NCAA Tournament which they have reached seven times in program history. The 2014 preseason WCC Coaches Poll again slotted the Waves for a fourth place conference finish.

Pepperdine's principal scoring threats should come from returning starters Lynn Williams and Ally Holz. Williams, a 5'7" senior forward scored 11 goals and added three assists for the Waves in 2013 despite missing the season's final four games due to injury. She's one of the 63 players on the preseason Mac Hermann Award watch list. Holz, also a senior, found the back of the net six times from her midfielder position. She added four assists to finish second on the team in points with 16 while being only one of three players to start all 19 games for the Waves. Both players were named to the WCC preseason all-conference team.

After facing perhaps the nation's best goalkeeper in Katelyn Rowland, the Terps will be up against another quality keeper in Pepperdine sophomore Hannah Seabert. Though her 1.40 goals against average isn't overly impressive, the freshman registered 114 saves (six per game) while plying all but 20 minutes in her rookie campaign. She notched five shutouts.

Pepperdine is 138-43-24 (.731) all time in 21 seasons on their home field. Sunday's meeting will be the first ever between the Terps and the Waves.

Fans who have the PAC 12 network as part of their cable package can watch the game with UCLA scheduled for a 7:00 pm Pacific (10:00 pm Eastern) kickoff. Internet audio broadcasts of both games will also be available with links from the respective home teams' websites available at game time.