In the first few games of the 2017 women’s soccer season, Mikayla Dayes was unquestionably Maryland’s best player. The freshman led the team in scoring and was a noticeable presence whenever the Terps were on offense.
Then, in the second half of a 1-0 overtime victory over Richmond, Dayes was carted off with a leg injury. Despite the Terps’ victory that Thursday evening, Dayes’ injury lingered, as she hasn’t played in the team’s two games since.
However, Maryland went 2-0 without her.
While Dayes introduced herself to the NCAA, the veteran Terps were leading the rest of the team. A rough 2016 made Maryland hungry to improve, accomplishing just that.
While the freshmen like Dayes and Hope Lewandoski have added a spark, the returning players guided Maryland through its non-conference schedule. Seniors like Madison Turner, Chelsea Jackson and Hope Gouterman are making sure last season didn’t go to waste.
“Even when we were struggling we were learning,” Ray Leone said. “We were still getting better, it just didn’t show in the results.”
It hasn’t been easy, though, as Maryland has only played one game decided by more than one goal. Through the Terps’ first seven contests, they’ve played four overtime games, testing their mental and physical toughness.
“With the number of overtimes that we’ve had, I think we’re learning from that,” Jackson said. “We’re learning game management, we’re learning to play smarter when out legs feel a little heavier, but we’re definitely learning from this experience moving into Big Ten play.”
Since Dayes went down, Turner and Jackson have picked up the slack offensively. Turner specifically has been red hot, totaling nine total shots against Richmond and scoring a goal in each of her last two games.
“She’s one of our silent leaders, where I’ve always looked to her as someone we should be finding,” sophomore defender Julia New said. “Sometimes she’s kind of underrated like that. In order to score it always comes from someone, and I feel like we’ve always had [her] involved in those plays and she’s always including other people in our offensive attack.”
While Turner, Jackson and Jarena Harmon have carried the offense, combining for three goals and an assist in their last three games, the entire team continues to improve defensively. Led by Gouterman, a captain who has played every minute this season including 64 overtime minutes, and sophomore Jlon Flippens, Maryland has recorded two more shutouts than it did last year, when it didn’t have any.
“The first thing we talked about all of preseason is defending together,” Leone said. “It really starts all the way up front. Everybody’s got to be a defender, otherwise you can’t play.”
In the back end, goalkeeper Rachel Egyed has taken the starting job and ran with it a year after Maryland used a rotation for most of the season, which hurt the team’s confidence and consistency.
In all three phases of the game, the veterans are using their experience from last season’s struggles to change how the team plays this year. Similar to 2017, Maryland played three overtime matches in its first five games in 2016, but the Terps went 0-2-1 in that span. The returning players took that as a learning experience and applied it to this season.
“Last year we were always so impatient taking people off the back and not being safe,” Flippens said. “For us it’s being smart, being patient and waiting for the right moment.”
The Terps have the luxury of 10 days of between their last non-conference and first Big Ten match, using that time to rest their bodies after a physical start. With the time off, Maryland should recharge and get Dayes back soon, focused on a big conference schedule.