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Maryland women’s soccer 2016 season preview: Terps look to rebuild under Ray Leone

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The new head coach is looking to lead the Terps to their first ever Big Ten Tournament.

The last two years have looked similar to Maryland women’s soccer fans, as the team was anchored by a strong defense, but struggled to score. After Maryland finished 6-12-1 in 2015 and missed the Big Ten Tournament for the second straight year, head coach Jonathan Morgan was asked to resign.

Maryland hired Ray Leone on Jan. 13 as his replacement, which looks like a good hire for the program. Leone has been a college coach for 24 years, including nine years at Harvard before coming to Maryland. In Cambridge he led the Crimson to five Ivy League titles and his teams never had a losing record. Here’s what to expect in his first season at Maryland.

Who’s gone

Maryland will need to replace eight starters from last year’s team. The Terps lost standout goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands, defenders Shannon Collins, Amanda Gerlitz and Kayla Shea and midfielders Riley Barger, Sarah Fichtner and Sarah Molina to graduation. If that wasn’t enough, leading goal scorer Alex Anthony transferred to USC to fulfill the rest of her eligibility after graduating in three years.

Forwards

Someone needs to step up to replace Anthony, who scored 10 of Maryland’s 17 goals in 2015. The best candidate to fill Anthony’s role is sophomore Jarena Harmon, a transfer from Pittsburgh who led the Panthers with seven goals in 2015. Harmon started off her collegiate career with a bang, scoring a hat trick in just her second game at Pitt.

Harmon should start alongside seniors Gabby Galanti and Natasha Ntone-Kouo, and expect senior Lisa Bianchini and junior Chelsea Jackson to see playing time as well. Jackson comes from Oklahoma, where she appeared in 17 games last year for the Sooners. Sophomore Kady Badham, who appeared in nine games last year, also returns.

Midfielders

This unit will be led by sophomore Cassie Phillips and junior Madison Turner, who were named Big Ten preseason players to watch. Both saw significant action last season, but will definitely see more time as they move into the starting lineup full time.

After Phillips and Turner there are questions about who else will play at midfield. Junior Marisa Knott comes from Northern Illinois, where she started eight games last year, and junior Kate Waters returns after playing in 13 and starting three for the Terps. Senior Hope Gouterman also returns, as does sophomore Darby Moore and senior Emily Kift.

With little depth at midfield Leone could turn to freshman Jlon Flippens, who received a call up to the U18 National Team in 2015. Flippens is one of two freshman midfielders alongside Hannah Hoefs, a Frederick County native who attended Linganore High School.

Defense and Goalies

This unit was the backbone of the team in the past two seasons, but looks like it will be a weakness in 2016. The only surefire starter is Coastal Carolina transfer Jenna Surdick, who started 13 games in 2015.

Leone’s first recruiting class was heavy on defenders. With playing time up for grabs, freshman Lauren Frank, Kate Swetz, Niven Hegeman and Julia New will need to emerge as the season goes on. Filling out the depth chart is sophomore Sarah Kovalchick, who served as a sports medicine intern as a freshman before walking on to the team this year.

At goalie, it will be a challenge for whoever has to replace Rachelle Beanlands. There are three candidates to replace Beanlands, including redshirt sophomore Rachel Egyed. Egyed has been the goalie in waiting the past two seasons, and was named a Big Ten preseason player to watch.

But if Leone wants to go with experience, he has two candidates in redshirt senior Stephanie Senn, a three year starter at Kent State, and sophomore Katelyn Jensen, who started last year at Kentucky.

What can we expect from this team in 2016?

This could be a tough season again for Maryland women’s soccer. After finishing last in the Big Ten in 2015, Maryland was picked to finish last again in 2016.

The team has a good nucleus of players to build around, but has some holes on the roster that might make it hard to be competitive in the Big Ten. Like last year, they only have one proven scorer, so someone will need to step up to compliment Jarena Harmon. With a completely new defense, the goal output they’ve had last two years won’t be enough.

It looks like Leone has his work cut out for him, but he was in a similar situation when he took his last job. The season before he came to Harvard, the Crimson won three games. In Leone’s first season the team won 10 and went on to dominate the Ivy League for almost a decade. If Maryland looks better in 2016, it could be a sign of things to come.

The season starts Friday when Maryland takes on TCU at 7 p.m. on Ludwig Field.