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Ray Leone will do wonders for Maryland women's soccer

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The Severna Park native has come home with the goal of turning the Terps into a perennial powerhouse.

Noah Niederhoffer

There are many words you can use to describe Ray Leone. Husband, father and coach are just a few. Creative, determined, genuine and patient are some more. Here's the one that I think Maryland women's soccer fans might enjoy the most: winner. Leone is in the top 25 in wins among active Division I head coaches.

Leone, a three-time all-conference player at UNC Charlotte in his college playing days, has won at every coaching stop. He started the women's soccer program at Berry College, a small school in Georgia, and had immediate success there. Leone then built the women's soccer program at Creighton from the ground up. Guess what? He had success there too.

His success in the Midwest led him to a position on the staff at Clemson, where he had even more success. After Clemson, he went to Tempe, taking over as head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils. What he did with the team on the field was great, but what he helped the team do off the field might be even more impressive. In his first five seasons with the Sun Devils, his squad had the highest team GPA of any varsity team at ASU. Prior to Leone's arrival, no Sun Devil had ever been honored as an Academic All-American. When Leone left after six years at the helm, they had five.

He left Arizona State to take the reins at Harvard and quickly rebuilt the Crimson into an Ivy League powerhouse. During his time in Cambridge, he led the Crimson to five conference championships.

Leone told me the opportunity to come home to Maryland was too good to pass up. "I gotta go for it. It was controlled excitement to pursue this job. It was the only one."

He said he's filed away a lot of lessons that he's learned at his myriad of stops. "People are people everywhere, you should recruit to the school, character counts first and foremost and how you go about putting a staff and a team together."

Leone landed a coup when he brought one of the all-time great net-minders for the Terps, Yewande Balogun, on as an assistant coach. "I'm so excited to have her...She's just a beacon of sunlight to me. Every day...There's something special about her as a person...You carry that with her true love of Maryland? You can't top that."

Maryland women's soccer played a possession-style of offense under previous head coach Jonathan Morgan. That will change under Leone.

"My personal preference is a high-tempo style of play. I want to find ways to get behind that backline as quickly as possible. I love possession, but I want it to be with a purpose." He added, "I don't have one particular system of play, it's more style of play...They've been very coachable...That was very important to see. Their attitudes have been excellent."

It might be too early to set expectations for the upcoming season, but Leone says he knows what this group wants to accomplish. "I think it's going to be a process. We want to go the Big Ten tournament, but I have to stay focused on the process." Leone is not one to get ahead of himself. He knows Maryland won't become a powerhouse overnight. "I will play to the strengths of what I have. We're thin in numbers [in spring games and practices], but we're not thin on effort. Their effort is through the roof."

Ray Leone applied for the head coaching job of Maryland women's soccer more than 20 years ago. He didn't get it. He was too inexperienced then and admitted as much to me. As he starts his first season as head coach at Maryland, that surreal feeling is still there.

"I've played against Maryland with so many different teams...The atmosphere was really unique, even back then. I can't believe that I'm going to be on the home side. It's going to be really cool."

A husband, father and coach. Creative, determined, genuine and patient. A winner. Ray Leone will do wonders for Maryland women's soccer.