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Maryland women’s soccer must not let heartbreak linger into upcoming road trip

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Following a three-game homestand, the Terps will not return to Ludwig Field until mid-October.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Only 24 seconds separated Maryland women’s soccer from its first Big Ten win in over 700 days on Sunday against Northwestern. But when Northwestern forward Francesca Docters put in the equalizer for the Wildcats, the home crowd at Ludwig Field was stunned.

Twenty minutes passed following Docters’ goal, and both Maryland and Northwestern wrapped up its first full week of conference play with a draw. Northwestern was likely ecstatic to travel back to Evanston, Illinois, with a result that seemingly came out of nowhere after getting dominated by Maryland for most of the game. For Maryland, there was only one word to describe the draw: heartbreak.

However, things could have ended worse for Maryland. Rewinding to this past Feb. 25 shows how bad it could have been. With the final minutes dwindling, the Terps were up 2-1 in only the second game of the season at Purdue. Maryland was well on its way to its first Big Ten victory of the season and a 1-0-1 record. Purdue’s Chloe Woodbeck had other plans though, putting in the game-tying goal with only one second on the clock. From there, the Boilermakers won in double overtime, shocking the Terps, who would not go on to win a game for the rest of the season.

This past Sunday was different. The Terps could have packed up their bags, devastated with the last-second goal, and accept the loss in extra time. Instead, head coach Ray Leone’s squad fought for the entire 110 minutes and still earned a result with one point on the day.

“We had a similar situation last year at Purdue that was gutting, and we lost on one kick over the top,” Leone said postgame after Sunday’s matchup against Northwestern. “And so for us to fight through that today shows the growth of this team’s mentality.”

Out of the 18 players that played in last season’s game against Purdue, only two of them are not on the current roster. They knew the feeling of a loss like that and refused to accept a similar one Sunday.

With Sunday’s result, the Terps have already matched their point total from the spring. Watching the team, it is apparent that they continue to improve.

“Just keep improving, keep playing hard, because we’re doing some good stuff out there,” Leone added postgame Sunday. “It really is. I see amazing growth, like two, three levels compared to where we were last year and just last spring.”

Unfortunately for the Terps, Sunday was not the first outcome that fell under the category of heartbreaking for them. Hosting Ohio State just one week prior, the Terps were only about 90 seconds away from forcing overtime against a team slated to finish third in the conference preseason. A Buckeyes’ goal in the 89th minute ended those hopes, but Maryland responded by earning results in the next two matches.

Maryland fought for the following 220 minutes, taking two teams that were expected to finish higher than them in the Big Ten standings to the distance. Obviously, wins are the main goal and anything less can be viewed as a disappointment, but two points in two games must be taken as a building block for the Terps.

Three straight road games stand between Maryland and its return to Ludwig Field on Oct. 14. The trip starts this Thursday, with a game in Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes. It continues Sunday, where the Terps will face Illinois in Champaign. Finally, Maryland gets a week off before it travels to Happy Valley to play Penn State.

All three games are winnable for Maryland. The Terps have been playing a great brand of soccer that should not only compete in the Big Ten but also win some games.

Maryland welcomed back star Alyssa Poarch this past weekend, and the offense looked more electric than it had been since she last played in the second game of the season. If she stays healthy — she exited in the second half against Northwestern but walked off under her own power — the former All-Big Ten forward can excel with the best. Forward Emily McNesby and defender Adalee Broadbent also returned this past weekend, bringing the Terps as close to full strength as they had been at the beginning of the season.

The heartbreak from the early portion of the Big Ten slate must be put in the rearview mirror for the Terps. This team has what it takes to continue to get results, but it has to move forward in doing so.

To Leone? There is no doubt that will be the case.

“We will find a way to fill up the gas tank, I can promise you that,” he finished with postgame Sunday. “This team is not quitters. They are fighters.”