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The biggest storylines for Maryland’s fall sports teams

With each team playing games again, here’s what you need to know.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Although the 2018-19 Maryland athletics year started Aug. 16, it didn’t truly feel that way until this weekend. Students returned to campus during the week, and women’s soccer defeated Appalachian State on Friday night in the first home game for a Terps team this season.

Men’s soccer, volleyball and field hockey all started their respective seasons this weekend, and football opens its 2018 campaign Saturday against No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field. With each team getting the ball rolling, here’s what to watch for.

Football: What is the response to the turmoil surrounding the program?

After Jordan McNair’s death in June and reports about the program’s toxic culture under head coach DJ Durkin in August, this season seems rather meaningless. It’s hard to focus on games when the Board of Regents is currently conducting investigations that could result in Durkin, athletic director Damon Evans and university president Wallace Loh all losing their jobs.

As coverage of the team continues to focus on anything but wins and losses, interim head coach Matt Canada has to find a way to get his team to focus on just that. No opponent is going to give Maryland a free pass, and Texas certainly won’t after what the Terps did in Austin last season. Playing without your head coach is always tough, and it could be easy to tell early on whether Maryland comes together as a team or just goes through the motions, waiting for a nightmare 2018 to come to a merciful end.

Men’s soccer: Where does the offense come from?

In 2016, Maryland scored 2.52 goals per game and had one of the best offenses in the country. Last year, the offense continued to hum along through the first 13 games, scoring 2.15 goals per game. Since then, the Terps’ offense has come to a screeching halt. They have scored just two goals in their last seven games, and registered only three shots on goal in a season-opening loss to No. 24 Washington.

Maryland lost its top three playmakers from last year in Eryk Williamson, Jake Rozhansky and Gordon Wild, and needs someone to step up. Sebastian Elney and Amar Sejdic are the most likely candidates to fill the role, though neither has experience being the main option on offense in their college careers. Elney has scored 15 career goals mainly as a finisher, and Sejdic thrived alongside Wild in 2016 before taking a step back last year.

Some teams set up their schedule to figure themselves out during early games, but Maryland doesn’t have that luxury. Starting Friday, the Terps face three-time defending national champion Stanford, No. 14 Virginia and UCLA in the span of a week.

Volleyball: Can Adam Hughes keep the team going in the right direction?

Before former head coach Steve Aird left for the same position at Indiana, Maryland finally looked like an up-and-coming team. A team that featured mostly freshmen and sophomores was the last team out of the NCAA Tournament even after starters Katie Myers and Kelsey Wicinski missed a majority of the season.

With Aird gone, the rebuild appears to have hit another hurdle. The Terps lost two players to graduation and five to transfer, including three of their top five leaders in kills and their top libero in Wicinski. Hughes was promoted from associate head coach to head coach shortly after Aird left, and he inherits a young team that still has potential. The Terps will play plenty of underclassmen again this year, which will definitely lead to ups and downs in the brutal Big Ten.

Hughes was Aird’s right-hand man as an assistant, so he understands what Maryland needs to do as a program to continue moving forward. He’s already done a good job finding late additions for this team and securing commitments for the future. Now the real games begin.

Women’s soccer: Can Maryland continue to improve in Year 3 for Ray Leone?

When Leone took the job at Maryland in the spring of 2016, he knew it would take a long time to rebuild. After a 3-15-1 campaign in 2016, the Terps improved to 7-8-3 last season.

This year, the next step is starting to climb out of the Big Ten cellar. The Terps have been a combined 2-18-2 in the Big Ten since Leone took over, and have ended both years on a six-game scoreless streak. It will be another uphill battle this year, as Maryland will face seven of the eight teams that qualified for last year’s Big Ten tournament in conference play. The Terps will field a young team again this year, which is a sign that Leone is trying to upgrade the talent in College Park but lacks the roster depth to challenge the top teams in the conference.

Field hockey: Who steps up to replace the senior leaders?

Once again, Missy Meharg’s team has national championship expectations. Whether the Terps can climb the mountaintop most likely rests on how well it can replace its two senior leaders on and off the field. Midfielder Lein Holsboer and defender Carrie Hanks were anchors on offense and defense, respectively, and helped Maryland turn a 6-5 start into a national championship game appearance last season.

It’s hard to learn a lot from a team after two games, but after two wins this weekend, it appears Maryland has a stout defense and a penalty corner dynamo in German national team member Nike Lorenz. This team has the talent to make a deep tournament run after playing many underclassmen last year, so it will be up to Meharg, the coaching staff and captains Linnea Gonzales, Julie Duncan and Kelee Lepage to push the right buttons.