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Maryland women’s soccer vs. Ohio State preview

Sunday marks the start of conference play for the Terps.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

Maryland women’s soccer returns home to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in Sunday’s Big Ten opener.

“They’re a good team,” Maryland head coach Ray Leone said. “We know they got an amazing frontline and they played a high level, you know TCU, North Carolina, a lot of big-time teams on their schedule, and they're good. They’re one of the best teams in the Big Ten, so it’s really trying to defend them properly, and then respond when we get our opportunity.”

The Terps wrapped up their nonconference slate with a record of 4-2-2. With everything considered, it was a good eight-game stretch for Maryland as it ramps up for Big Ten play. Leone’s squad has had a week off after last Sunday’s tough 2-0 defeat at undefeated Wake Forest. The Terps are searching for their first victory since September 2 against George Washington.

Sunday will be a special moment for the program, as Maryland honors six of its seniors before kickoff on Senior Day. Forward Emily McNesby, midfielder Loren Sefcik and defender Adalee Broadbent are among the honorees.

The match is set to begin at 1 p.m. and will air on BTN Plus. Let’s take a look at where Ohio State stands entering conference play.

Ohio State Buckeyes (5-3)

Spring 2021 record: 8-3-3 (6-1-3 Big Ten)

Head coach Lori Walker-Hock is in her 25th season leading the Ohio State women’s soccer program. Walker-Hock has turned the Buckeyes into a perennial Big Ten and national power, leading the program to 14 NCAA Tournament appearances while compiling a 267-182-52 record at the school. She has received Big Ten Coach of the Year honors an impressive three times, winning the outright Big Ten regular-season title in 2017 and sharing it in 2010. Walker-Hock’s coaching career began as an assistant at the University of Maryland in 1992, leading record-setting goalkeeping and defense in her three years at the school.

Ohio State tested itself with a strong nonconference schedule, as its three losses all came to top-15 national opponents in BYU, North Carolina and TCU. The Buckeyes come into conference play with high expectations, bringing back 10 of 11 starters from a team that made it to the second round of this past spring’s NCAA Tournament. Ohio State was slated to finish third out of 14 teams in the 2021 Big Ten Women’s Soccer Preseason Poll.

Players to know

Kayla Fischer, senior forward, No. 2 — Fischer has arguably been the Buckeyes’ best all-around offensive player this season. The Kent, Ohio product leads the team with five assists to also go along with four goals. Fischer’s strong start to the season is a reflection of a strong spring campaign. She earned First Team All-Big Ten honors last season, putting up five goals, four assists and led the team in shots.

Izzy Rodriguez, senior defender, No. 9 — The most decorated player on the Buckeyes’ roster, Rodriguez has been a star since she joined the team in 2017. Rodriguez was dominant on the Ohio State backline in the spring, winning Big Ten Defender of the Year to go along with United Soccer Coaches Third Team All-American honors. She has been placed on an all-conference team every single year of her career. Rodriguez has one goal this season, which was against Central Florida on September 2.

Emma Sears, junior forward, No. 19 — Sears has had a strong start to her season, leading the team with five goals and 33 shots. Pacing the scoring for the Buckeyes is familiar territory for Sears, who led the team with seven goals in the spring, including three game-winners. Her strong sophomore season earned her Second Team All-Big Ten honors.

Strength

Experience. Returning every starter from the season prior would be a success for any program, let alone one that just won an NCAA Tournament game. The oldest players on the roster — like Rodriguez whose freshman campaign was in 2017 — have played in three NCAA Tournaments. When a program is in pursuit of conference championships and national success, quite simply, that matters. The Buckeyes are battle-tested and know what it takes to succeed in conference play.

Weakness

Allowing goals. Ohio State has allowed a Big Ten-leading 1.75 goals per game. While this number is inflated due to the Buckeyes’ rigorous non-conference schedule — half of their games were against nationally-ranked opponents — it is the one weak point on the stat sheet. This is not a reflection on senior goalkeeper Bailey Kolinski, who has been a steady starter for the Buckeyes the past three seasons. Kolinski has played every minute in net for Ohio State this season and should improve her stats as conference play begins.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland change the narrative on its series history with Ohio State? In the all-time head-to-head series, the Buckeyes hold a 7-0-2 advantage over the Terps. The teams met twice last season, including a 4-2 Ohio State win that ended Maryland’s season on April 8. With both teams bringing back a ton of experience, there should be a ton of familiarity on each side as they look to start on the right foot in the Big Ten.

“I think that we all just need to be locked in and just play our game and we all just need to communicate and I think we’ll be fine, honestly,” defender Malikae Dayes said. “I think our backline and our team overall is good enough to defend their players, so we’re not really worried.”

2. How will the Terps look after a week off? Ahead of its conference opener, Maryland had a whole week to prepare for Ohio State. In addition to preparing, the Terps also had an opportunity to get their legs back underneath them. With two double-overtime draws in the past two weeks, Maryland has had to play a ton of minutes. The Terps have also been bitten by the injury bug, as their leading goal scorers in forwards Alyssa Poarch and McNesby, along with Broadbent and others, have had to miss time. The week off has been welcomed by the team ahead of its arduous conference schedule.

“I think it’s been a great opportunity,” midfielder Hope Lewandowski said. “I know I’ve made the most of this week...just getting refreshed, also just give us an opportunity to catch up on life and school outside of soccer, but I think it’s a great opportunity just to play on Sunday, that’s our only focus this week is preparing for Ohio State. So, we really get that extra time to rest, to sleep, and get our bodies right.”

3. Can the Terps’ offense get back on track? Maryland’s offense got off to an incredible start, scoring at least two goals in four of its first five games. However, the Terps have only been able to generate one goal in the past three games combined. Maryland averages 15.9 shots per game, which is a good number, but it needs to get higher quality shots and play more efficiently in the attacking third.

“This team had an attacking mindset, you know, and I think it’s still there,” Leone said. “But we got to get, I think, better percentage shots on frame. Not 16 the number, it’s not the number, it’s the percentage of quality ones. I think I saw one of the teams, you know, they scored five or six goals and they only had 10 shots on goal. That’s pretty good.”