In 2014, the Maryland women's soccer team simply could not find the back of the net often enough. They scored just twice in their final six games and totaled 17 goals on the season, tied for last place in the conference in the category.
It cost them dearly, and they fell well short of the lofty expectations bestowed on them in the preseason. The Terps were picked to place 3rd in the conference but instead limped to a 3-5-5 conference record and a 9th place finish, missing out on the conference tournament by 1 point. Their 5-7-6 overall record wasn't nearly enough to earn them an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, marking the second consecutive year the team was left out of the 64-team field.
Only two of the players on that 2014 team were seniors, Shade Pratt and Cory Ryan, but the team suffered some early departures over the offseason, most importantly seniors Alex Doody and Aubrey Baker. When you add it all up, the team lost 7 of the 16 goals they scored last season, or 44%. The forwards on the team have a combined 7 career goals. All of that is what casts enough doubt that the team is picked to finish 7th in the conference in this year's preseason poll.
Sophomore Alex Anthony will play a key role in improving the team's goalscoring. Anthony, the lone underclassman in the team's six-player leadership group, had her freshman season cut short by injury, but was still one of team's most productive scorers. She played in just 6 games, coming off the bench in all of them, and still managed to score two goals and pick up an assist, tying her for the most goals among returners, and putting her 2nd in points.
The Terrapins also will have junior forward Alexis Prior-Brown back after not being available the last two years. Prior-Brown showed flashes as a freshman in 2012, picking up a pair of assists in her 21 games played off the bench. Recovering from a torn ACL, she might not be fully match fit to start the season but the Terrapins will take every bit of attacking threat they can get.
Sophomore Natasha Ntone-Kouo and redshirt junior Gabby Galanti will also be contributors up front, the former coming off a season in which she played all 18 games, started 5, and scored two goals. Galanti has battled injuries since high school, played in 13 games in 2014 but was unable to recreate the success she found in her first two seasons. If the Terrapins do have a bounce-back season in 2015, it will likely be due to the forwards staying healthy and increasing their production.
Maryland has three senior midfielders who started all 18 games in 2014. Two of them, Sarah Fichtner and Riley Barger, also played in nearly every game of 2013, and were named to the leadership group this year. Both scored a goal last year, with Barger adding a couple of assists and Fichtner tallying one of her own. Fichtner also has a spot on the players to watch list. Sarah Molina played in 2014 from a deeper midfield position, and completes the trio of returning starter senior midfielders.
The fourth midfield spot is somewhat up-for-grabs, but the Terps have plenty of game experience to fill it, even though junior Lauren Berman transferred to Boston College after an injury-riddled sophomore season. Seniors Maisie McCune and Erika Joab both saw significant time last year, and junior Hope Gouterman could be ready for an increased role in 2015. No matter what player or combination of players is used to round out the midfield, the unit should remain cohesive, considering the wealth of experience and time spent together. However, the team needs the midfield to be a dangerous group on the attack, something they fell well short of last season.
In terms of experience, the defense is in a similar place as the midfield. Again, Maryland returns three seniors who started all of last year, when the team surrendered just 17 goals all season. Center back Erika Nelson missed two games in 2014 due to injury, but she started the other 16, and her play earned her a spot on the players to watch list. To Nelson's left is fellow leadership group member Shannon Collins, who has quite remarkably started every game of the past three seasons. She's not much of a goal-scoring threat, she's scored just once in her career, but she's racked up 6 assists in both of the last two seasons, by far the most prolific returner in that regard.
Amanda Gerlitz had a successful season moving into a full-time role on defense last year, and she will return alongside Nelson and Collins. The remaining defensive position is likely to be taken by, you guessed it, a senior. Kayla Shea played in 15 games, starting 6, in 2014, and seems primed to slide into the starting gig. This was a rock solid unit last season, and there's no reason to believe it won't take a step forward in 2015.
Another big reason the team's defense is expected to shine once again is goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands. Beanlands returns for her senior season with three years of starting experience under her belt. Last year was her best performance yet, as she posted her career-best numbers across the board. She made one crucial mistake against Illinois, but is well deserving of her place on the players to watch list. Beanlands played every minute last season, and is in line to do the same in her senior campaign.
The B1G should be strong again this season, with perennial power Penn State showing no sign of slowing down, ranked #6 in the preseason top 25 and picked to win the conference. Wisconsin and Rutgers join them in the poll, but are tied for 3rd in the conference, with Michigan projected above them but finishing in the "receiving votes" section of the top 25.
This year, the Terps should be even tighter in defense, but it remains to be seen whether they possess the offensive firepower to make the strong defensive performances count and bring the team back to the conference, and national tournaments.
The Terrapins play an exhibition on the road against Virginia on Monday before officially opening the season Friday at home when they face Kent State.