A 4-19-7 record in the last two seasons had Maryland women’s soccer searching for answers.
Former head coach Ray Leone’s contract expired at the end of the 2021 season, and Meghan Ryan Nemzer, a Maryland native with 15 years of experience on the Rutgers coaching staff, was hired.
Junior midfielder Sydney Urban, although still a Florida Gator when Nemzer was introduced, knew Maryland was the place to be when she heard the current head coach was coming to the struggling program.
“When Meg got hired, the amount of people that spoke about how fast this program was going to turn around, purely based on the coach, is just crazy,” Urban said. “Look at the returning players. We had the [Dayes] twins, [Alyssa Poarch], Maddie [Smith] in goal. We had all these people returning and the talent is there. The talent’s always been here. They just didn’t have a coach to bring it out of them.”
As the final whistle blew in Maryland’s Big Ten-opening 1-0 victory over Michigan, it turned a page in the opening chapter of what is hoped to be a new era for the program.
From the outside, it was the team’s first conference win in two seasons, breaking a 0-16-5 slump. But for the players inside that Terrapin locker room, it meant something more.
“Did you see us celebrating? It was like we won the world cup,” senior goalkeeper Madeline Smith said.
Why exactly did this win mean so much?
From the minute Nemzer took the podium in her introductory press conference this past December, she outlined her direction for a program that was in the midst of the lowest of lows.
“If you want to compete and be a good student-athlete and be a good person, we have a spot for you,” Nemzer said.
Nemzer brought in 19 new players this season, highlighted by 10 transfers to go along with an entirely new coaching staff. Of those 19 student-athletes, over half have seen playing time this season.
“These transfers took a chance on Maryland, you know, and at the end of the day as a coaching staff, we appreciate that, but I also appreciate the players that stuck around as well. And they’ve done an unbelievable job in becoming a family,” Nemzer said.
A record of 2-3-5 through 10 games this year may not seem great, but this season means more than the results in the win or loss column.
Under a new coaching staff, a starting lineup that usually features eight newcomers drew its first four games, before drawing with an elite school in Georgetown and fighting to the final whistle against then-No. 24 Wake Forest.
With negative results coming in back-to-back heartbreaking losses against Illinois and No. 4 Rutgers, Maryland has a resiliency unlike years past.
“Our team motto this year is fight. And I think that’s honestly what we do,” graduate defender Amanda Schafer said.
This group has conceded more than one goal just once in ten games, and its three losses came on second-half winners in one-goal losses.
It’s not just current players who speak on the direction Maryland is taking under Nemzer, it’s alumni too.
Lindsay Simpson, who was a goalie for the Terps from 2004-2006 and still sticks around the program to this day, could not but help contain her excitement over Nemzer.
“She is the most positive person I’ve ever known. She’s the best person for this program right now,” she said.
And like Nemzer herself, Simpson echoed the genuine confidence of what this program can be in a few years.
“The sky’s the limit to what they can accomplish with this group, and I fully expect them to be contending for national titles in the next few years because she is an incredible recruiter,” Simpson said.
The Terps’ 2023 recruiting class is projected to be in or near the top 10 in the country.
While Nemzer’s vision is known, it takes a team to trust, listen and follow through on that prophecy.
“I wanted to come to a winning program. I wanted to make the NCAA Tournament, and I wanted to win championships. And Meg had that mentality from the beginning,” Oregon transfer Sofi Vinas said. “Meg brings a lot of fire and passion into the program. And that lights a spark in all of us.”
When asked if there was one moment in which it was clear that Nemzer was the person for this job — the person to bring Maryland women’s soccer to championship contention — Vinas and Urban didn’t hesitate.
“In early July, while a lot of other programs are still on vacation, girls are still at home, we were here training, doing conditioning in triple-digit heat starting at 7 a.m,” Urban said.
That helped build the tight-knit family Nemzer speaks about.
“A lot of us hadn’t known each other for long, but everyone worked for everyone. That was my realization that we’re building something special here,” Vinas said.
Although this season will likely bring major growing pains, Nemzer has her group playing with an incredible and newfound mentality — a winning one.
“We don’t need two years to rebuild a program. We have the talent and we have the resources. It’s being good in the present and in the future. But it’s not be bad now, work through it. It’s be good now, be good later,” Urban said.