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After a brutal 2016, Maryland women’s soccer can only get better

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Despite having the most losses in the program history this season, the team has a bright future.

maryland women's soccer Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

In his first season as head coach of Maryland women’s soccer, Ray Leone had his work cut out for him. The team lost eight starters from the previous year, and only had 12 players during spring workouts. Six transfers and six freshman came during the summer, and the team only had a few weeks to get acclimated to each other before the start of the season.

The team showed potential in the first few weeks, but ultimately faded, finishing with a 3-15-1 record, the fewest wins for the program since 1989. The season was mostly bad, but provided some hope for the future.

In this recap, I’ll break down how the team did on offense, defense, and in goal, as well as look ahead to next season.

Offense

This was a bright spot for the Terps in the first half of the season. Maryland surpassed the number of goals they scored in 2015 just 10 games into 2016, and Jarena Harmon and Chelsea Jackson were one of the highest-scoring duos in the Big Ten.

Jackson and Harmon complemented each other well. Harmon was the playmaker, beating the defenders with flashy moves, and Jackson was always in the right place in the right time, finishing off set pieces and crosses in the box.

But Maryland had no other offensive options. Jackson and Harmon finished the season with nine and eight goals respectively, but no other player had more than one. Jlon Flippens started to play in the upper third more towards the end of the year, but struggled to put shots on target.

Once teams realized that Jackson and Harmon were the only threats, Maryland’s offensive opportunities dried up. The Terps didn’t score over the final 552 minutes of the season.

Leone said he’d never coached a team that had that long of a slump, and said he told his players to just be patient because the goals will come. They didn’t, and Maryland will have a tough time scoring next year if another offensive option doesn’t emerge.

Defense

After losing all of last year’s starting defense, Leone was forced to experiment on the back line. The Terps allowed 2.53 goals per game, their most since 1991. There were multiple freshman playing back line at almost all times, and the unit certainly experienced their growing pains, which were only exasperated after Natasha Ntone-Kouo went down with a knee injury on Aug. 28 at Penn.

The defense made many of the same mistakes for the first two months, but appeared to reach a breaking point in a 4-0 loss to Ohio State on Oct. 6. The Terps allowed two goals in the first three minutes, with the Buckeyes taking advantage of problems that plagued the back line all season. Maryland allowed opponents to score easy goals all year by not putting pressure on players with the ball and not going over to help, which gave teams the opportunity to get easy shots on goal.

This changed three days later against Penn State. Maryland had a much tougher approach on defense, aggressively marking opponents, and not letting them get easy shots on goal. The Terps lost 3-0 to the defending national champions that day, but all three goals came on corner kicks.

Until the season finale against Minnesota, Maryland played solid defense in the field but encountered problems on set pieces. The Terps struggled to clear corners and let the ball bounce around in the box, which usually resulted in a goal. If it can take that solid effort in the field the last third of the season and improve on corner-kick defense, this unit should be much improved next fall.

Goalies

In non-conference play Rachel Egyed, Katelyn Jensen, and Stephanie Senn all saw equal playing time, and no goalie played the whole game until Jensen played all 90 in a 1-0 loss to Rutgers on Sept. 16. It was clear that Egyed and Jensen were both better goalkeepers than Senn, but it didn’t matter who was in goal because the defense was porous.

Leone went with Jensen at the beginning of conference play, but her goalkeeping style didn’t fit the team. Jensen liked to wait for the action to come to her instead of making a play, which she couldn’t afford to do with the defense she had in front of her.

Jensen suffered a head injury against Michigan State on Sept. 29, and sat out the following game against Michigan before returning against Ohio State, where she played 68 minutes before being replaced by Egyed. After seeing mop-up duty against the Buckeyes, Egyed became the starter for the rest of the season, and the defense responded to the change.

Egyed was much more aggressive than Jensen, which helped lead to a better defensive performance in four of the last five games. Her style of play fit the defense in front of her. She came out of the goal a lot more than Jensen in order to prevent teams from developing easy shots.

Both showed potential, and depending on how good the defense is next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them in goal.

Final thoughts

I predicted this would be a tough year for Maryland women’s soccer, but not to this degree. After seeing the team’s offense in non-conference play, I thought they would win a few Big Ten games, but they went 1-10 and ended the season on a 552-minute scoreless streak. I knew the defense would be bad, but not bad enough to surrender three goals nine times.

But the Terps should be better next season. They have a solid group of players to build around, but were too young and inexperienced this year to compete in the Big Ten.

Harmon and Jackson are solid scorers, but the Terps need one or two more players to step up to have a balanced attack. Expect Jlon Flippens to see more time on offense next year, as she started to play up at the end of the season after spending most of the year on defense. Darby Moore could also step into this role, as she has great speed in the midfield and is definitely capable of making a few runs on goal.

On defense, Niven Hegeman, Julia New and Marisa Knott all return, and will only build on the improvement made at the end of the season. Hope Gouterman could also be back; although she’s a senior on the roster, she wasn’t honored on senior day. Even if Flippens plays more on offense, having those four back should lead to a sizable improvement on defense.

Plus, this team finally has a whole spring to play together after having only half of the team on campus last spring. Leone has also had success at every stop in his career, and has built teams from the ground up multiple times.

But Maryland still has a long way to go to be competitive with the top teams in the Big Ten. The Terps only looked like the better team in one conference game, and were severely overmatched against the best teams in the league. The conference doesn’t have powerhouse programs—no team had an RPI higher than 19—but had a Division I-high eight teams in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s obvious Maryland has a long way to go, but after this season, it can only go up.