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Maryland men’s soccer defender Nick Richardson’s patience is finally paying off

Richardson seeks his second national championship this season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland became Big Ten regular-season champions Sunday, the first time the program has won a trophy since the 2018 national championship.

The only player remaining from the 2018 roster is redshirt senior defender Nick Richardson, who has been a Terp for the last five years.

Every season has been a different story for Richardson, each presenting a new set of challenges.

In 2018, Richardson was part of a magical journey. Winning the national championship is what all 18-year-old athletes dream of. However, Richardson never saw the field.

He battled a PCL injury that forced him to miss the entire 2018 season. During his recovery, Richardson felt like an outsider as he often did not travel or practice with the team.

“The first kinda two months I didn’t really feel like I was super included within the team,” Richardson said. “It was hard at first, but in the end it was awesome.”

Watching his teammates celebrate a national title from the sidelines was tough, but Richardson looks back on the season in a positive light. He learned what it takes to be a collegiate athlete, a leader and a champion, all of which were prevalent in his 2019 campaign.

Maryland did not achieve the same level of success in Richardson’s debut season, as the Terps finished the year 11-8-2 and lost in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Despite the national championship hangover, Richardson got back on his feet and established himself as a building block for the future. The defender started in all 21 matches and played a variety of different positions.

“I was put into roles that I wasn’t super familiar with,” Richardson said. “I was just trying to have a foothold within the team, making the biggest influence I could. But it was really difficult, kinda taking almost a whole year off and being put into a new role at a game speed that was different than what I’ve experienced before.”

Richardson continued to adapt throughout 2020, and now with a season under his belt, he was ready to take the next step. But the world had other plans.

Richardson and the Terps were not sheltered from the effects of COVID-19 and had to take the same precautionary measures as everyone else around the world. This meant no open facilities, no practices, no film sessions and no team-building exercises.

“It was tough to be kind of prepared for that season,” Richardson said. “I wouldn’t say it was very easy to get to know your teammates either. Everything was very secluded and it didn’t really feel like a season at all.”

Maryland struggled in the 2021 spring season. The Terps finished the year with their first losing record since 2001, as battling against only Big Ten opponents all season was no easy task.

With things getting back to normal in the fall, Maryland looked like its usual dominant self. Richardson was named as one of the team’s captains and continued his elite defensive play while adding two assists.

“We kind of connected a bit better than we had before with our young guys and our older guys,” Richardson said. “I think we were on the right track last year. We were just maybe a few injuries away from really putting things together.”

The Terps only lost two games during the regular season and were riding high heading into the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 2 seed. However, things did not go as planned. Maryland got upset in the first round by No. 7-seed Northwestern and was eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament.

With a little under two weeks of rest and preparation from their early exit, many expected the Terps to run through LIU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But Maryland was met with disappointment once again.

“I think we were just a little bit drained,” Richardson said. “Going through that year, we had ups and downs. We just seemed to not have the final piece that you really need to win in those kinds of playoff games, but I think we learned a lot from that.”

This season, Richardson — along with the rest of Maryland’s roster — looks fresh and better than ever. The Terps won the Big Ten regular-season title, in large part due to Richardson’s eruption on the offensive end.

Prior to this year, Richardson had notched only five assists and zero goals over his career, but he surpassed those marks in this season alone. The redshirt senior is second on the team in points (12) with three goals and six assists.

The first goal of his career came in a pivotal match against Georgetown, leading to an emotion-filled moment for the veteran.

“I was very relieved,” Richardson said. “But I was kind of more happy to see everybody support me. It means a lot and I kind of got more emotional just seeing everybody come around me and give me high fives, smiles, hugs and congratulate me.”

With the departures of offensive weapons Ben Bender, Jacen Russell-Rowe and Caden Stafford, Maryland desperately needed somebody to step up, and Richardson did just that.

“Nick’s been outstanding,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “He’s been great from one end line to the other. A great defender and an incredible attacker as well and he’s having the best year of his career. And he’s just such an amazing young man. [He] does everything right.”

Sitting as the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland will play in the semifinals on Wednesday. Whenever the conference tournament wraps up, Richardson and the Terps will surely be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

For Richardson, this is his last opportunity to win another national championship, but this time he will be on the field, fighting until the final buzzer sounds.