Maryland is off to a 2-0 start after picking up rather comfortable wins over Kent State and Navy to open the 2015 campaign. That perfect record will be on the line Friday, when the Terps face their first real test of the season, the vaunted West Virginia Mountaineers (1-1).
Maryland's Opening Weekend
Although the team is yet to drop a point, the Terrapins do have some improvements to make as the season wears on. Head coach Jonathan Morgan's decision to run a 4-3-3 seems to be paying off in terms of possession, but the team is yet to get the offensive production they need out of anybody not named Alex Anthony. Anthony is picking up where she left off when her freshman year was cut short by injury, having taken over 60% of the team's shots so far in 2015, and scoring all 3 of their goals.
There is something to be said for getting the ball to your most dangerous attacker and letting them take their chances, but the Terrapins need to find a way to create a more balanced attack. Anthony has taken 9 shots on goal. The rest of the team has 3. Starting forward Natasha Ntone-Kouo has just 1 shot so far, and it was off target. The final of the trio starting up front is junior Gabby Galanti, who has been more active than Ntone-Kouo, and deserves credit for earning what turned out to be the decisive penalty kick against Kent State. Still, she hasn't been as productive as she needs to be as teams begin to focus on preventing Anthony from getting opportunities.
After Anthony's 12-shot performance against Navy, Morgan complimented the sophomore forward's shot selection. It's clear that Anthony isn't slowing down, so it's up to the rest of the team to catch up.
The good news is that the defense has been as advertised, even with senior defender Erika Nelson playing very limited minutes due to a knee injury. Maryland's allowed just 11 shots, only 2 of which have required a save from Rachelle Beanlands. The team is clearly capable of keeping possession and stifling opponents' opportunities, and they should only improve defensively as they return to full health and develop even more chemistry. Much like last year, it seems highly unlikely that the defense will be the cause of problems for the Terps.
Know Thy Enemy: West Virginia
The Mountaineers enter Friday with a 2-1 record and rankings of 11 and 15 in the TopDrawerSoccer and coaches polls, respectively, making them the best opponent Maryland has faced by a longshot. West Virginia is 3-time defending regular-season Big 12 champions, and reached the NCAA tournament for the 15th consecutive year in 2014. They lost an All-American forward from that team, but still have plenty of talent, and most of their goalscoring.
The Mountaineers have two all-world juniors who participated and performed well for Canada in this summer's Women's World Cup. Defender Kadeisha Buchanan was named the tournament's Best Young Player, and midfielder Ashley Lawrence scored a goal in group play. Both Buchanan and Lawrence are on the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list.
Like Maryland, West Virginia's backline, led by the All-American Buchanan, is very stingy. The team led the Big 12 in shutouts and goals allowed last season, return 3/4 defenders from that team and a senior goalkeeper in Hannah Steadman.
The Mountaineers opened the season with a 2-0 win over SIUE before taking a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Virginia Tech, who were ranked one spot behind WVU in the preseason polls. The Mountaineers will be looking to get back on track 7 PM Friday in the program's first meeting with Maryland.