Maryland women’s soccer’s victory over Navy on Aug. 19 was significant. For the first time since Ray Leone took over as head coach in 2016, the Terps completed a shutout. In contrast, Maryland was on the wrong end of a shutout eight times last year, including each of its last six games.
Then, just five days later, Maryland matched its 2016 win total with its third win of the season.
It is clear Leone’s first recruiting class, ranked 25th nationally, is already paying dividends. Through Maryland’s first four games, freshmen have combined for half of the team’s goals and two-thirds of the team’s assists. Even when the newcomers aren’t scoring goals, like in Maryland’s victory over Navy, they are still impacting the game.
“Even though it was our returners scoring the goals, the assists and the buildup were from everybody, especially the newcomers and the freshmen,” junior goalkeeper Rachel Egyed said. “It’s just great to see how well everyone works together and how they can just figure it out in the run of play after a couple of weeks together.”
The Terps were so thin in Leone’s first spring with Maryland that they couldn’t field a full team to be able to properly scrimmage. Instead, they were forced to battle with mannequins, hurting the team’s ability to prepare for the upcoming season.
Now the situation is reversed, as Maryland returned almost everybody and added 16 newcomers to the program. The Terps went from a 20-person roster to a 33-person roster.
That significant of a change can cause some issues, especially since the size of the team is larger than the average NCAA women’s soccer roster of 28. So far, everyone seems to understand their role and what the team is building, allowing for an easy transition.
“We’ve talked about, for months, that this large a team is going to [have] issues and we have to be together,” Leone said. “I think that they’ve done that so far.”
The difference in both talent level and roster size is notable. Through four games, 22 players have already seen action, including 10 freshmen.
“In practice you can already tell it’s more competitive,” senior Chelsea Jackson said. “I think that has a lot to do with the newcomers, but it also has a lot to do with the returners gaining some experience from last season.”
Leone not only credits the talented incoming class for making an impact, but the veteran players as well for allowing an easy transition.
“I’m really proud of the returning players because they recruited them, they welcomed them on their team,” he said. “They know we’re rebuilding the Maryland program, so they embraced these kids not only in the recruiting process but now when they’ve come in together.”
The returning players are just as excited as anyone about the addition of new talent as anyone. If everyone buys into Leone’s vision, this team could have a huge comeback season.