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How a battle-tested Alyssa Poarch fought through setbacks to become a “Maryland legend”

After three surgeries and two full seasons missed, the graduate attacker ends her six-year tenure with the Terps on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

In the waning moments in an eventual 3-0 win against George Mason in September, Alyssa Poarch, almost a year after suffering a season-ending knee injury, found the back of the net for her first goal of the season.

“I felt like myself again,” she said after that game.

The Middletown, Delaware native’s six-year career with Maryland women’s soccer has been a tiring journey, but a rewarding one, and one that led to her being named a captain this season.

“I’m not the most vocal person ever but I feel like it’s the way I carry myself and my training habits and just being there for other people,” Poarch said about her captaincy.

When speaking of Poarch and the Dayes sisters, all of whom called their sixth seasons their last, head coach Meg Nemzer poured out her emotions.

“Those three are Maryland legends,” Nemzer said. “They fought through a lot. So I’m proud to say I coach them and they were a big reason why I wanted to come to Maryland and to see their growth over the year. On and off the field they have so much Maryland pride.”

The word fight resonates so closely for Poarch, though, who has seen three years of her collegiate career stripped away from her.

After forgoing her sophomore and junior years of high school soccer in favor of club ball with FC Continental, Poarch — already committed to Maryland — returned to Middletown High for her senior year, to the surprise of her high school coach Brian Derrickson.

“There isn’t a player that I’ve had in my years of coaching that has had the God-given talent that she had,” Derrickson said.

It was at the end of that season when Poarch saw her first tough break come.

Just before the state tournament, and only a few months before the All-American was set to take the field in College Park, she came down with a torn ACL.

While devastating, Poarch admitted the scary incident allowed her to grow.

“I was freaking out. I thought I was going to have this great freshman year,” Poarch said. “But honestly like, I wouldn’t change it. And I did grow a lot from it. It just changed my perspective. I went from having hopes to playing to hopes of being a great teammate.”

Derrickson noted this quality in Poarch while she supported her teammates on the sidelines during Middletown’s run to the state championship.

“She was quiet but a good leader and humble is the word I would use to describe her,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Brian Derrickson.

The injury in May didn’t allow Poarch to be able to walk until August, when she arrived on campus. Now, she admits to the difficulty that arose from being on the sidelines.

“I had to understand that I literally went through a major knee surgery, which is something I’ve never done before,” Poarch said. “Obviously the mechanics and things that felt easy before aren’t going to feel easy now.”

While the 2018 season as a redshirt freshman was a solid year for her, it was the 2019 campaign that had the former three-star recruit look like a star on the rise.

“I think as the [2018] season progressed, I felt myself getting more and more confident,” Poarch added. “That summer I was the leading goal scorer in the conference for the summer team. The confidence I got from that and believing in myself probably led tothe breakout season in 2019.”

“AP,” as her teammates call her, led the team in goals with eight and notched Second Team All-Big Ten honors in her sophomore campaign.

En route to an above-.500 record, Maryland women’s soccer looked to be changing its identity with a prolific goal-scorer leading the way.

“We had an awesome season. And then we planned on having a great season in the fall of 2020, then that was pushed back with COVID,” she said.

That season ended up being played in the spring of 2021, and was a disappointing one as Maryland finished 0-10-2. That year, which exhausted Poarch’s junior year of eligibility, hurt her in more than a few ways.

While seeing the team fall to a tough place again, she was forced to the sideline with an ankle sprain before getting a groin injury, which she attributed to some of the season’s falters.

Poarch, while humble, was also honest in talking about how tough it’s been the past few years.

“The past two years is probably the hardest not only for me, but for the program in general,” Poarch said. “I just feel like we kept getting hit and hit with like more and more obstacles.”

Her biggest obstacle came in the 2021 season, which was set to be her fifth and final year with the Terps.

After missing seven of the team’s first nine games with an initial knee injury, she returned still as the Terps’ leading point-getter in a Sep. 26 match against Northwestern.

On incredible form, she would go down with another knee injury, tearing her ACL for the second time.

Thoughts of playing pro after the season went out the window. With the change in management on the rise, Poarch decided to take a sixth and final year of eligibility.

“I had to have two knee surgeries last fall, which a lot of people don’t know and was really hard for me,” Poarch said.

While the road to recovery has not been linear, and Poarch admits her role has needed to change a bit this season while still progressing, one thing has stayed constant — support.

Her parents, who raised her two brothers to also play collegiate soccer, find themselves at nearly every game at Ludwig Field.

“They’ve been my biggest supporters through all this, through injuries and throughout college. When I’m hurt and upset about soccer, they’re hurt. Soccer is not only a big part of my life, but a big part of theirs too.”

Hurting has been an all-too-familiar feeling with Poarch, but Nemzer has understandably described her as a “fighter.”

This season’s been a frustrating one for Poarch and the Terps, who have been doing everything besides putting the ball in the back of the net. But much like the graduate student said about fighting through her first ACL tear, growth and progression have been key.

Not even a year post-op, Poarch says she’s still not 100%, but the fight has allowed her to still contribute as the Terps’ leading shot-getter. She is also second on the team in goals.

“I just want to leave the program on the highest level possible and leave my mark,” Poarch said. “Although this season I might not have the numbers or the outcomes that I wanted, I just want to be able to be a role model to the girls that are coming in. I just want to be that person that like the younger girls look up to.”

In Sunday’s season finale at Purdue, Poarch — riding a two-game point streak — might just be feeling like her old self again as the Terps look to end the season with back-to-back wins.